Mock-up models have been an important tool in the teaching and practice of architecture for centuries. Architectural model making allow designers and clients to simultaneously explore plans, side views, and perspective views of a design. A solid model simulates the spatial relationship between different buildings to explore their construction system.

Even in the modern age when ultra-high-quality rendering and VR have become popular, physical models can stand the test of architectural design, display and expression. Whether it’s a quick five-minute paper model or an elaborately sculpted wooden model, careful material selection can transform the modeling process, allowing designers to think abstractly and test the physical properties of structures.

As an important step in the creative process, spatial exploration is crucial to design. In the work of Antoni Gaudi, for example, two-dimensional drawings (plans and sections) are complemented by solid models to provide the designer with a comprehensive and complete design.

But architect Paulo Mendes da Rocha claimed in his Brazilian book “Maquetes de Papel” that what a physical model can offer a design is a support for the design process, not just a means of representation . “It’s a model as a sketch…you make a model as if you were conceiving an essay…like a poet sketches when he notices…then the model is a work in progress tool.”

Considering the challenges that may arise during the process of making architectural models, we’ve compiled a set of basic tips and material recommendations to help readers with their next modelling.

paper model
sulfite paper
Due to its low cost and availability, the material is best suited for spatial testing and floor plan drawing. By using scissors and tape, you can find many solutions quickly, easily and affordably, while still creating dynamic building structures.

Another noteworthy property of the material is the thinness and flexibility of the paper model, which can be folded, bent and tilted without stress, making the material ideal for folding studies.

paper jam
The material is thicker and stiffer than paper, so it is often used for spatial testing of buildings without large three-dimensional curves. It is worth noting, however, that in some cases curved surfaces can be achieved by fastening cuts at the outer edges.

It comes in a variety of colors and shows excellent performance in functional modeling on site. Looking solely at the neutral primary colors used to represent the topography, the urban fabric can be designed and represented with a pre-established palette to point out different uses and functions, leading to a better understanding of spatial division and building use.

Card stock can also be used as a separate mock-up design. Using neutral-colored cardstock (especially white), you can simulate shadow effects with the help of a light source such as a flashlight.

Frank Gehry has often used the material to express his signature designs, including fluid forms, twisting planes and curves, as shown in the film Frank Gehry’s sketches (2005).

This paper has greater weight and higher strength. The difference between duplex boards and triplex boards is the number of layers in each board. This material is ideal for developing models of buildings.

Architect Paulo Mendes da Rocha is very good at using this material due to its simplicity and speed of use.

In addition to the paper mentioned above, we can also use some other materials, such as acetate sheets, to represent glass and glass.

wooden model
Unlike paper models, wooden models are stronger and more detailed. People can experience the pleasing expression brought by aesthetics on the wooden model, so as to feel the structural technology and space attributes of the building. But wooden models are usually more expensive.

Of the woods often used for model making, Balsa is one of the easiest to handle. The thinness of the wood allows the wood to be precisely cut and glued to join the faces. However, care must be taken when handling slices perpendicular to the grain so that the wood does not splinter or have rough edges.

Many studios use this model to observe and adjust the interior structural scheme of the building. Aesthetically, soft wood can also provide customers with a design solution that can withstand scrutiny.

Stacked balsa wood is great for contouring and cutting the wood is best done with a laser cutter, otherwise only as a test and connection of cutting techniques.

Balsa wood is also very easy to make different finishes by sanding the edges, painting or varnishing. It can be used as panels or veneers in constructions such as edging, framing, sheeting and tiling.

foam model
Foam is the best choice for easy volumetric testing, and foam cutters are now a staple in university studios. Dozens of volumes can be generated in minutes, making the technique ideal for large-scale project models where details such as the mode and appearancess important.

Foam can also create more clearly detailed models of buildings and landscaping such as surrounding trees through the use of sculpting tools.
The technology of the dye can better show the design of the project. As with foam cutting, care is needed to avoid burning or coloring the material with smoke. The choice of glue is also important, as some chemicals may melt the foam and weaken the model’s rigidity.

Foam modeling is especially popular with college students because of its extremely low cost, convenience, and aesthetic appeal.

In the professional sector, construction giants Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) and OMA have both chosen to use foam models.

plastic model
This low-cost material is often used to develop terrain models. You simply attach the printed drawing to the plastic top and cut.

Due to its thin thickness, it may be necessary to join multiple layers of plastic sheets using the same cutout to achieve the desired final height.

Plastic models can complement 3D printed models to provide a basis or background for finer, more detailed designs.