Reasons Why Architects Make Models
Models are super useful to architects for all sorts of things from the earliest parts of the design all the way to the marketing of building even after it’s built but what is it about models that makes them such an important and powerful tool and how do different architecture firms incorporate them into their own and unique design process you know some don’t even use models at all but a lot of them do and some even have dedicated model shops with specialized equipment and staff to run them.
In the video below we’ll look into a few of these firms that like to make models and we’ll even hear from an architect at the Ver-mourphosus to see how they use models specifically in their practice and their practice did win at Pritzker prize in 2005 so they must be doing something right. The idea for this video actually came from seeing what some friends were doing over at a resource called Design Class who offers a series of online courses about all kinds of topics around the design world.
They have a brand new course dedicated to learning from the folks at Morphosis so if this topic intrigues you stick around to hear more about the class and how to sign up. The first thing to interrogate in the world of models is the concept of scale, scale is the ratio of size and the model to the size it’s representing in reality. We’ll talk more about how architects take advantage of these overlaps but before that a typical progression within the process of design might be to use smaller scale models in the beginning and larger ones later on.
Small scale means that they require less detail to do their job or to be imaginable as a building they’re also easier to make when they’re small and require less material, so early in the project you can make more of them to quickly test different ideas usually small models are good for testing massing or the abstract volume of the building so this model it’s it’s at a really nice scale we’re we’re looking at basically an overview of the whole project relative to the city streets that are that surround it as well as the parking for the museum we only care about the shape of the building at this point the material the model tends to not matter so much so often architects just use whatever material is easy to work with rigid foam insulation board is usually really good for this it’s light and it’s easy to cut so lots of offices have foam cutters which is basically this electrified wire that slices right through that stuff with ease and they only give off a minor amount of toxic smoke it’s important to note that this process of cutting volume is subtractive meaning that you start with a volume of material or a solid block of foam and you’re cutting away at it of course you can make smaller blocks and then add them together that’s how these pink models were made they’re 25 roof studies for a house by the firm herzog and miron or this exhibition by the firm mvrdv where they just dumped all of their blue foam models into a giant vat each element was designed and tested as a potential piece of a project that they called vertical village where they imagined a large building complex made up of all these different parts where each one is completely unique the foam models are perfect for testing this sort of rapid fire iteration and we’ll come back to these two examples of firms in a minute but eric meyer coming at us from the model shop at mafosis walks us through how they might use a wood block for these kinds of early explorations you can start to carve away and maybe there’s even a hole you know a hole that takes out part of that corner there so the center is here but we’re subtracting material from this part that’s kind of interesting it’s taking on a different character based on those holes i really like the way the holes go in not in one direction we’re starting to shape this thing a little bit more the choice to use wood and drill bits it limits the design possibilities to a manageable set of actions and operations if you’re only going to design with round holes where and how do you place those holes all tools in the design process have limitations and biases pencils are good at making lines certain computer programs are good at making certain shapes and model tools and materials are each good at their own narrow inclinations architects are always trying to take advantage of these kinds of self-imposed limitations when you first set down to try and solve a design problem anything can happen and setting parameters is absolutely crucial and the model making process itself can sometimes set these limitations which are productive counter-intuitively you wouldn’t think that limits would be freeing but you’d be surprised how quickly designing a building can become completely overwhelming when just anything is possible often these limitations come from which materials are used and what tools are used to work the materials so we’ve talked about foam and wood but firms like herzog and amiron might use different materials for their material qualities and what visual effects that they produce so what they look like is important in addition to the ease with which they can take on certain shapes for instance their process for the prada store in tokyo includes all kinds of models with different materials the shape of the building had actually already been determined because it maximizes the building envelope that’s allowed by the zoning code but the rest of the design elements needed some exploration so they made ones out of metals and patterns and papers and plastics and they landed on this idea that the building should be like a lantern or a jewel or a bag of jewels and the plastic one caught their attention they experimented with giving it dimples to create different visual effects that would change how the building looks through parts of the day or as you move around it this translated into the idea of having windows that bubble in or bubble out so an effect that we like at this kind of small scale can lead directly to choices that we make at the larger scale of the buildings herzegovinaron find this kind of material effect in the model and try to replicate it on the building at the larger scale but full-scale building components themselves might actually be made in a model shop sometimes to test them for this particular facade system we manufactured the formwork for the for these samples in our office using our cnc router with the firm mvrdv which we talked about before this might work a little bit differently models might be featured in an exhibition like the one on the vertical village then the shapes also become pieces of furniture that one can sit on while perusing the exhibition then there’s also this display of the same abstract shapes deployed as a huge model or i guess it might be considered like a small building it’s difficult to tell so this ambiguity serves to immerse people in the exhibition rather than just showing the architecture like with a picture they create a kind of all-encompassing experience and the model and the scale question is able to do this with its physicality and its placement in the world there’s another one by mvrdv that i really like and it’s similar to the concept of the vertical village that they explore in their models and in their drawings it’s like a giant game of tetris with a series of monochromatic interlocked tetris pieces then they create a chunk of this larger design as an isolated pavilion this too breaks down the relationship between building and model because we can see this as a kind of mock-up or a one-to-one component of what would actually be built much larger or we could just appreciate it for what it is a large rectangular proto building speaking of a model’s ability to operate at various scales there’s this funny and well-known anecdote about oma’s casa de musica project its initial concept began as a model for a house the house project fell through right as the firm was about to enter the competition for the music hall project so they took the design of the house and they scaled it up five times until it became the design of that larger building with a completely different program what was intended is like storage units and main rooms inside of the house like the living room became grand concert spaces lined with thick walls that could contain the back of house spaces for the performance venue this might all sound kind of flip or even a little bit lazy but i think the lesson can also be that models aren’t necessarily a representation of just a building they’re made of materials and they’re objects in their own right as a tool for design the goal is to free associate what it might mean for a building and often creative misinterpretations of the model can be really valuable but of course models don’t just serve as tools for design or displays and exhibitions models can also be important to just convey an architect’s design to their client in a very straightforward way so this is a model for a house that we’re doing in brooklyn new york where we’ve divided the model into three chunks and it allows us to really zoom in and kind of understand the space inside the model if you look over here you can see that it’s a cut allows you to understand the space inside of the kind of living area and what the bedroom relationship is between you know circulation garage living area and outdoor kind of outdoor deck if you’d like to learn more about models and develop more skills making and designing through them consider signing up for the design class with a link in the description in their course you’ll learn all about how morphosis uses models one of my favorite parts is when they explain the fascinating process of their perot museum design from early models all the way through to the finished building the course also zooms out to talk about all aspects of design with this pritzker prize winning firm so moving on from models they discuss technology and how it permeates the firm at all levels like how they use revit or rhino or how technology could be seen as both a tool or a crutch and finally they talk about how they’re able to succeed as a firm and as individuals within the firm it goes over leadership strategies and client relationships and even how to cope with the high intensity environment of a fast-paced and high-end practice whether you have your site set to work in a firm like this or want to start a firm yourself and develop your own process or just learn more about how architecture is practiced this course could be a real great investment for you so head over on to the design class to sign up the course just went live and you can be one of the first to experience this valuable and exclusive access why do you think models are so effective for design and communicating design to others let’s chat about it in the discussion section below i’ll be there to learn from all what you think i’m also planning a sequel to this video with information about how students use models contrasting that that with a professional model shop so stay tuned for that and in the meantime if you enjoyed this video please consider giving it a like and subscribe to the channel if you’re so inclined you might also enjoy some of these other videos see you over there