Architectural Model Making Tips

Architects build two fundamentally different types of models: presentation models and study models. Presentation models are often used in client meetings to convey a finished design in miniature while study models are used by architects as part of the design process. Study models are the equivalent of a three-dimensional sketch and allow us to explore and iterate design ideas quickly. We often begin these by collaging ideas using planes of cardboard and wood.

In this video, I share my best tips for building architectural models something I’ve done professionally for close to 30 years.

Building models remains an important tool and part of my personal process for making architecture. And while many have moved to completely digital forms of modeling, I’ve maintained the habit of building models. Here’s why: there’s a sensory feedback loop between the hands and the brain known as embodied cognition. It’s been shown that our motor system influences our understanding and cognition in much the same way the mind can influence our physical actions. I build models to unlock creative inspiration I can’t otherwise access (they’re also pretty fun to build).


Many of the above can be found directly in my model shop on Amazon

  1. Basswood project pack

  2. Chipboard .05” thick + .03” thick

  3. Cardstock (grey)

  4. Corrugated cardboard

  5. Basswood strips

  6. Mahogany strip 1/16” thick

  7. Translucent Vellum

  8. Mylar sheet

  9. Sanding block

  10. Guitar strings (wire accents)

  11. 6” cork-backed metal ruler

  12. 24” cork-backed metal ruler

  13. Flat nose pliers (bending wire)

  14. Wire cutters

  15. Square

  16. White glue (I prefer Elmer’s)

  17. Hot glue gun (+ sticks)

  18. Self-healing Cutting mats (12”x18” + 18”x24”, taped together)

  19. Kuru toga mechanical pencil

  20. Copic marker (gray set)

  21. Olfa 18mm Blades

  22. Olfa L-2

  23. Chisel blade (for cutting windows)

  24. X-acto #11

  25. Tweezers (sprung shut)

  26. Heavy duty metal scissors

  27. Razor saw

  28. Mitre box

  29. Gaffer’s tape

*Note: the above are affiliated which means - at no additional cost to you - if you purchase anything using them you’re helping to support my work on YouTube. My humble thanks (I really appreciate it)!

Making Architecture Models (a tutorial)

I've always found satisfaction in turning scraps of wood and cardboard into a tiny model, but I haven't always loved the finished product. If you've struggled with this too (or if you’re just curious about model making) you'll appreciate this week's video where I share my model making techniques.

I'll show you the materials I chose, why I chose them and a few - less expensive - alternatives. I discuss why you would choose one modeling style over another, how to conceptualize what to model and how a few simple tweaks can make a big difference in the esthetics of your architectural models.

Why Do Architects Make Models?

Architects build scale models for many reasons: they're a form of three-dimensional sketching, they help us visualize how light will illuminate spaces, they help us analyze the best forms, spatial and material relationships. Even with so many digital tools that are faster, more accurate and easier to change architects still build physical models, why?  In part, because the act of making and manipulating things with your hands has been shown to produce more efficient, more creative, and insightful solutions to problems.

Learn more and watch as I build this tiny model in the video.