Architectural Model Helps Preserve a Bit of History

architectural model

Back in the 1980’s, our model makers  were looking for an architectural model project to add to their portfolio, as well as a marketing tool. They looked around the community for an historic, architecturally elegant building that could be made into an impressive scale model.

The Landmark Society of Western NY gave a list of ten buildings it wanted to see immortalized in an architectural model. The Hoyt-Potter House in Cornhill was one of the top suggestions. Originally built in 1840 for the Hoyt family, then sold to the Potter’s of Western Union notoriety, this Greek Revival had fallen into deep disrepair over the years. The current owner wanted to mow over what was left of the foundation and build a parking lot in its place, but the City would not allow it.

Model Maker Scott Andrews studied the only known photograph of the house, visited the site and researched additional information on the house. From his research and measurements, an architectural model was constructed in 4 -6 weeks. It was presented to the Landmark Society for their temporary use and professional pictures were taken of it. The community began to take notice of this piece of Rochester history. The model itself generated interest, as well as the B&W photographs of the model which fooled many people into thinking they were looking at the real thing back in its heyday.

Developer Ben Kendig took note of the model photographs and became interested in the rehabilitation of the dilapidated house. The city did as well, and took possession of the home and sold the house to Ben for a dollar. Mr. Kendig turned to our model makers to find out where the building  plans were as they were needed for his architect. He was a bit surprised to find out that the model makers had gone off of one photograph and their own measurements. There were no plans!

Our model makers were then hired to go back to the site and take additional measurements of what was left of the original structure to assist in the rennovations. After taking these measurements and doing further research they drew up trim drawings and other architectural details that were used by the architects in the redesign.

The Landmark Society sent photos to Albany of the rebuilt house and won a grant to buy the property from Ben Kendig. The Hoyt-Potter House is now the permanent home of the Landmark Society of Western NY.

Is a 3D Printer Like Having an Extra Model Maker?

3D printer for model making shop

The model maker team here at KiwiMill is definitely pleased with the addition of our newest Objet 3D printer. While we jokingly refer to it as our extra employee – it is quite a miraculous technology – it’s worth noting the support systems needed to make it run, as well as its inherent limitations.

First comes the training necessary to operate, clean and maintain the printer itself. An initial inservice with the sales tech after purchase is a good starting point. Ongoing tech support provided by the manufacturer keeps things running smoothly in the long-term.

Material to run the 3D printer is a regular investment as well. The resin itself  is expensive, and to a lesser degree, the support material used to print each item. The resin is the actual plastic that a part is made out of, the support material is what fills in the empty spaces in the design as it prints layer by layer on the tray.

The human labor involved in 3D printing is perhaps the most interesting aspect of this particular fabrication technique. Three dimensional printers can give the impression that they take the place of  a model maker. After all, they are touted as machines capable of  growing parts overnight, sometimes even whole models. How true is this exactly?

Traditionally model makers have sat at work benches, or run machinery, cutting, carving and shaping materials to the specifications needed for a model part. This method is considered subtractive – the model maker must extract from a whole piece of material the parts necessary to assemble the model. This certainly takes time and a considerable amount of skill, rightfully earning the model maker’s status of master crafts person.

Innovations in the field of model making have introduced automated machines that will do the extracting for you. CNC (computer numerical control) machines guide a router, lathe or mill to carve out parts automatically. Three dimensional drawings have been programmed into the machine by a computer, to provide coordinates for the subtracting device. X and Y coordinates guide the machine back and forth and the Z coordinate tells the machine what up and down motions to make, thus creating a 3 dimensional part.

The 3D printer works a bit differently;  it takes a 3D drawing and prints it out in 2D layers. What the model maker must first do is take a CAD engineered drawing from the client and make it “water tight”. This means that all lines in the drawing need to be connected, or closed off. If only a 2D drawing is available, the mode maker must be able to draw it up in 3D. If only the original object exists, with no drawing, it can be scanned and made into a 3D drawing.

3D drawing scale model part3D printed part for scale model

Why does the printer need a 3D drawings when ultimately it will be printing it in 2D? How the 3D printer works is that it takes a 3D drawing from any drafting program and slices it into 2D cross-sections, printing each slice out, layer by layer and stacking them up into a three-dimensional object. The unique aspect of this method is that it is additive, not subtractive. The part is built up out of nothing, not extracted from an existing piece of material.

3D printed scale model part

Afer the original 3D draft has been prepared by the model maker and sent to the printer, it is true that the machine then grows the parts itself. This is the magical aspect of the process. A model maker can go home for the night while a part is being created. However, once the part is removed from the printer, it is not exactly ready to use. This is where additional labor is necessary to clean the part.

3D printed model part

Support material is the substance that takes the place of empty space in a 3D object, where it is needed to hold up the design as it builds upward. It acts as scaffolding for the object being printed. A layer of support material is laid down on the print tray as well, as a foundation, before any part of the actual object starts printing.

When an object is removed from the 3D printer, it is this support material that needs to be cleaned off the part. Depending on the shape or design of a part, it is the removal of support material that takes the majority of labor in the 3D printing process. Water jet spraying, chemical soaking, scraping and digging out support material from intricate pieces takes time and effort.  Sometimes there is so much support material covering a part, that it needs to be extracted out of it as if it were a piece of gold embedded in rock. Thus making 3D printing a bit of a subtractive method as well!

3D printed part for model maker

Once the part is cleaned, it needs to be primed, painted, and usually assembled with other parts to make a whole model.  We don’t often – if ever – print a model in its entirety.  The over all complexity and sophistication of most of our scale models demands greater levels of detail. They are nice supplemental parts to have, and free our model makers up to add the human artistry that gives our models their custom look.

3D printed parts for model maker

A 3D printer does not replace a model maker, as fun as it is to joke around with the notion.  The added technology requires our model makers to be better trained in 3D drafting: drawing, reading and fixing 3D computer files. It ‘s another fabrication choice, and hones the critical thinking skills that determine what parts will be printed, CNC machined, hand-built or crafted in yet another method. This blend of artistry, engineering and technology is making the model making field such an exciting place to be right now.

Architectural Models Communicate.

architectural model

Architecture is probably the most frequently modeled item other than modes of transportation (trains, planes, boats and vehicles). Most people have encountered a scale model of a building, house, interior space or community at some point in their lives. Virtual 3D walk-throughs of structures are available with new technology, but nothing has replaced the usefulness, the appeal and the impact of a physical representation.

architectural model

Architectural models, like most scale representations, are used as a communication tool.  A quality scale model should deliver a highly effective message. The key to an outstanding architectural model, and satisfied clients, is first understanding the purpose the model is going to serve.  What do you want your model to say? What will it be used for? Architectural models are used for a variety of circumstances including:

  • Fundraising
  • Sales
  • Evaluating a design
  • Permit / Application approval
  • Planning and development
  • Display
  • Education / Training

There are sub-categories within these architectural model uses, as well as overlapping purposes. It’s up to the professional model maker to extract from the client the essence of what needs to be communicated with the project. This helps drive the type of architectural model that will be built, along with what scale to use.

Types of  architectural models vary just as their purposes do:

There are simple massing models where monochrome cubes or blocks might be used to represent buildings, emphasizing placement of structures and their context. Detail level on models of this type is typically minimal to accentuate the physical space in relationship to its surroundings.

architectural model

Site models depict buildings and the areas around them, such as roads, parking lots, landscaping and cars.

site model

site model

site model

site model

site model

Architectural models used for display are often very detailed and  include such things as lush landscaping, lighting, and other highly realistic features. A museum quality architectural model is expected to last generations, be made of the finest available materials and represent a master model maker’s most meticulous work.

architectural model

Interior models show exactly that – what’s inside a space. They may involve lift off roofs or side cut aways for viewing. They might have very detailed furniture, finishes and miniaturized accessories, or be a simple design that emphasizes lay out and flow of rooms.

architectural model

architectural model

   architectural model

Urban models typically depict larger areas, whether it be city blocks, part of a town or a whole community. Detail can vary greatly on these as well and is usually determined by the scale that was chosen for the project.

Landscape architecture models emphasise the trees, plantings, grasses as well as any structures, bodies of water and unique terrain features that might be included in the area depicted.

site model

Architectural dioramas attempt to tell a story visually. They include all the elements necessary to represent a place or moment in time. They may not be completely to scale, but depict objects in the background purposefully smaller in order to give the illusion of depth or distance.

museum model

museum model

Topographic models show the elevations, shapes and features of a particular land surface.

military model

There are other types of architectural models but the importance lies in matching the purpose of the model with its design.

Similarly, scale is chosen by determining what the model needs to convey. Two main questions need to be answered when determining the scale of an architectural model. How much area needs to be covered and how much detail needs to be shown?

When a large area is being depicted, such as a site map, the scale is usually smaller. This way more area can be displayed without the over all dimensions of the model becoming too unwieldy. Detail level may be lower, in part because things are less visible at a smaller scale.

If only one building is being depicted, the scale is usually larger. Detail on a larger scale model is much more noticeable and will have a greater visual impact.

architectural model

architectural model

When a model maker communicates well with a client, and exhibits superior model making skills, the resulting architectural model conveys the message that was intended. This is the outcome both model maker and customer strive for.