Category Archives: Types of Models

Museum Model Gives Local History Lesson

It’s not often that KiwiMill has the opportunity to work on a local scale model project. This past summer we jumped at the opportunity to contribute a historical museum model to Rochester, NY’s own Genesee Brewery Company. Owned by North American Breweries, this landmark location started in 1878, making it one of the largest and oldest continually operating breweries in the United States.

As part of its evolution, the brewery recently opened the Genesee Brew House in a former packaging facility on its campus, complete with pub-style restaurant, interactive historical exhibits, gift shop and pilot brewery. Housed in this exciting new venture is a 20 foot square historical museum model of the two original breweries and surrounding neighborhoods circa 1915. Commissioned by our client, North American Breweries, its purpose is to provide a permanent record of the area for the community.

As with any historic model, a great deal of research was done by our shop prior to the construction phase. Sanborn and plat maps were used to discern the overall footprint of the model. Model makers walked the site as it stands today, and took photographs of existing structures and remnants.

Genesee Brew House Model ResearchGenesee Brew House Model Research

Old photographs provided by the brewery and the city library became the primary source of research material. These historic photographs helped determine the layout of the streets and buildings, styles and location of surrounding houses, as well as street lamp design and landscaping in the early 1900’s. Architectural drawings of the buildings and houses were then created in AutoCad. After this time-consuming phase, the actual build could begin.

Museum Model Museum Model

Museum Model

Museum Model

Museum ModelMuseum Model




The buildings and houses were scratch built primarily from laser-cut acrylic. Cars and wagons were drawn on the computer and 3D printed. A trestle and tracks were assembled from laser-cut plywood. Railroad cars were scratch built, along with accessories such as street signs, lamp posts, stairs and lawn decor.

Museum ModelMuseum Model

The landscaping included the river gorge created from sculpted foam and mounted on a plywood box bases. The water was made of plexiglass and a layer of liquid model water poured over it. Model trees were placed throughout the site. Dirt was collected locally and sifted and glued down onto the model, giving it a realistic, textured ground cover. Finally, weathering techniques were applied to various parts of the model to tie together the different elements: buildings, streets, landscaping, and accessories.

Museum ModelMuseum Model

All of this attention to detail produced a museum model that accurately portrays a time and place in history – the aim of  well executed dioramas. If done exceptionally well, a historic model will evoke emotions from the viewer as well. If given the opportunity, check out this project in person, and let us know if we met our goal to produce a lasting, meaningful, entertaining and educational display.

Museum ModelMuseum Model

Museum Model

Museum ModelMuseum Model

Museum ModelMuseum Model

Museum Model

Architectural Site Models

Site models serve a variety of purposes. They may be used for sales, fundraising, development approval, corporate show piece, or museum display. Typically they encompass a large geographic area. The area included in a site model often extends beyond the boundaries of the particular structures being featured. In this way it gives the project a sense of place and space.

Because a site model usually needs to cover a lot of area, the scale tends to be smaller. Smaller scale models generally have less detail than a large-scale architectural model. It’s not impossible to create tiny details on a smaller scale site model but much of that detail will be difficult for the naked eye to see, and therefore many clients opt not to go too detailed. Of course, a museum or corporate display model may be both small-scale and highly detailed. It depends on the model’s purpose.

Site models may be as simple as geometric blocks representing structures, or include textured, storied buildings with window recesses and balconies . The chosen scale of the model will lend itself to different approaches. Most site models include extensive landscaping because there is a large physical campus, or area to represent. Topography is important as well, for the same reason; smaller scale does not mean sacrificing the varied elevations of most sites.

Check out the pictures of different site models below. They include housing developments, office parks, military bases, corporate headquarters and production facilities. Even an urban skate park!

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.

Shipping Containers Find New Uses Worldwide

trade show model

Shipping containers are one of those items you take for granted in life. The intermodal container or “sea can” is a reusable steel box with standard measurements that transports all types of goods around the world. Their universal appeal comes from the ability to transfer from sea to rail to road without having to take the contents out along the way.

There are tens of millions of these containers world-wide. Most of the containers are 8 ft wide by 8 ft high. Lengths vary from 20 footers to 56 feet long, with corrugated steel walls and a door at one end. They can be stacked on top of each other – all 8 corners have fasteners – and can carry over 20 tons of product each. Each container is marked with a BIC code to identify ownership.

Because of their relative ubiquitousness, and the fact that it takes so much energy to melt down 8,000 pounds of steel, these containers are being given second lives. An entire industry has sprung up with creative ways to reuse these containers that would otherwise be languishing in shipyards at the end of their useful shipping lives. Twenty footers in particular are in plentiful supply, as shippers have moved on to larger sizes over the years.

The most obvious second use for a shipping container is housing. Many architects have created eye-catching, unique urban designs  with the 20 foot container as their building block of choice. Other companies are focusing on 3 bedroom, 2.5 bath designs for USA consumers who find the reusable aspect appealing & want lots of square footage. Even more practical is the use of one or two containers to make reasonably sized homes for places and people around the world who need or prefer a smaller footprint.

The use of shipping containers as modular units in the building process is seen as an upcycling of materials. Not only does it cost less to adapt these units than it does to melt them down for materials, but leaving the units in their original state provides a stronger structure than conventional housing frames. Not just limited to housing, containers are being used for office space, retail buildings, museums and even works of art.

An off shoot of the intermodal shipping container is the expandable shelter concept. These modular units are used for deployment to situations world-wide that can benefit from ready-made, pop open, adaptable shelters. Shipped just like an intermodal container, these spaces then open up, or expand, to offer support services in the event of natural disasters or other types of emergencies. An excellent example of this are the ESS units offered by SAIC.

Intermodal containers are increasingly the focus of businesses looking to create a unique shelter out of a familiar design. Their modular shape, inherent portability, structural soundness and availability make these containers an intriguing concept to design from and build with.

Click Here for an interesting pictorial of shipping containers that are lost at sea.

Product Design Case Study

KiwiMill and its product design division, kiwiseed, worked together to make a medical device used for thyroid analysis.

Our industrial design department worked on concept sketches, form studies, user testing and 3D CAD drawings for prototyping and manufacturing.

Our model makers  created the prototypes, 3D printed the design and then molded and cast this low volume production line. Metal work detail was done with the help of CLAD, an in-house partner company. KiwiMill’s electronics team applied the finishing touches.

This truly was a “one stop” product design service provided for our client, Dhurjaty Electronics.




Trade Show Season 2012

The 2012 Trade Show Season is in full swing. Trade shows offer a unique opportunity to generate new leads, launch a new product design and strengthen relationships with existing clients. It’s not too late to plan new ways of meeting these goals by bringing more prospects in to your booth, and creating excitement about what you have to offer once they are there.

More industries are turning to scale model makers to build the center piece for their trade show booth. There are numerous reasons for turning to custom models to sell products. The actual item may be too cumbersome, over-sized, tiny or delicate to display at multiple trade shows. It might lack the visual impact that is called for in the highly charged atmosphere of trade show exhibitors. Emphasizing particular product features may be necessary to stand out from the competition.

While in recent years various multi media has been added to showcase a product’s potential, nothing quite matches the impact that a 3D replica provides. Prospects want to see and touch the product. They want to walk around it and view it from various angles; examine up close how it functions. Custom scale models give a tangible understanding of what is being offered in a format that everyone can easily understand.

Utilizing the newest techniques,  model makers can add features that help a product sell itself. Cut away designs, LED lighting, clear bodies that show interior components all add interest and perspective that allow the product to tell its own story. A working model can even show a product in action. Using electronics, the model can be made to function like the real thing. These special features make for an extra engaging display, making it easier for the sales team to demonstrate the product’s advantages.

A scale model display, complimented by multi media ( pictures,music, animation or videos) makes for a powerful impact. Trade Show participation is a big investment that needs to pay off in terms of exposure and ultimately, sales. It makes sense to use the most powerful tools possible to attract and focus potential clients on your product in a way that leaves a lasting impression.

photo credit: EDubya

Museum Models – Caretakers of the Past, Present and Future

museum model

Did you know that there are almost 18 thousand museums in the United States? Are you aware that zoos are classified as museums? The American Association of Museums (AAM) lists the  following  types of museums on their website:

  • Arboretum/Botanical Gardens
  • Art Museums
  • Children’s Museums
  • Historical House or Site Museums
  • History Museums
  • Natural History or Anthropology Museums
  • Nature Centers
  • Zoos
  • Science/Technology Museums
  • General Museums
  • Specialized Museums (such as Railroad, Military, African-American)

Did you ever wonder how they are funded? While many charge admissions, there are a fair number that are free-of-charge to visitors. Private charitable donations provide the largest percent of funding followed by admission charges (including gift shops and concessions), government funding (25%) and investment income.

For those interested in museum careers there are degrees offered in museum studies, historic preservation, public history and non-profit management. Of course museums require a host of services to develop, support and run their institutions. Things like  facilities management, public relations, institutional planning, retail services, membership & development, collections stewardship and human resources.

The most obvious feature of a museum is the exhibits themselves.  While some museums are known for their collections of original artifacts, many more use reproductions, display boards, dioramas, props, scale models, interactive kiosks and hands-on exhibits to educate and entertain their visitors. Exhibit companies design these spaces to maximize a particular museum’s goals, and model making companies are often called upon to create the actual objects that go in these spaces.

The  International Council of Museums (ICOM) defines these spaces as “a non-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment.

Model makers pride themselves on providing quality museum models that will hold up to the high standards of these institutions.

Architecture Is a Beautiful Thing.

architectural model

Most people can get excited about architectural models. Breathtakingly huge skyscrapers lit from the interior,  intricately detailed cottages with lift-off roofs, or lushly landscaped commercial developments capture attention. These types of models can be true works of art.

Besides being beautiful to look at, architectural models play an important role in society in general and development specifically. They are used to approve plans, raise funds, marketing and sales, as well as showcasing exceptional or historically significant design.

There are as many different types of architectural models as there are approaches to building one. Simple mass designs, in one solid color (usually white), semi-detailed studies with medium levels of texture, color and intricacy, all the way to museum quality finely detailed marketing models with landscaping as important as the architecture. The type of architectural model is ultimately dictated by its use in the business world, along with budgetary concerns of the client.

KiwiMill works closely with architects and developers to produce highly accurate, one-of-a-kind, finely crafted simulations of design in a time-frame that meets the needs of our clients.

What’s a Prototype Model?

medical prototype


It may seem oddly counter-intuitive, but often the quickest, least expensive way to make a new product is to first make something else – a prototype model.

A prototype model is a special type of model that engineers or designers use to test a product’s properties and function. Prototypes allow engineers to explore design alternatives, test theories and confirm performance all prior to starting production.

Early on in the creation of a new product, a series of prototypes might be designed, fabricated and tested, progressively refining the final iteration. It’s assumed that the initial prototype will have many changes made to it as feedback is given.

The prototype model is a learning tool above all else. Different types of prototypes serve different purposes, and provide specific answers to design questions.

Some prototypes are for proof of concept – they don’t attempt to simulate the finished product in any way. Other prototypes replicate the size, look or feel of the product using simple materials and are meant to be studied but not put to repeated use. Some are constructed out of sturdier materials and are expected to be withstand  rigorous  human interaction during the testing phase. Some prototypes are meant for visual fidelity only. They copy flawlessly the visual appearance of the product for use in photo shoots or executive review. A fully  functional, or working prototype would simulate the final product to the highest degree, or fidelity. This prototype would be for a final check before production began.

So why bother having a prototype instead of the real product? Simply put, a prototype will save time and money in the long run. Prototypes show potential investors or users an idea of what the product looks like in the earliest stages of development. Less expensive materials and manufacturing processes, along with simpler details and engineering, allow for more design options to be tested using prototypes before committing to the production stage. Identifying problems with design early on saves money. Having users test  different designs during the development cycle gives critical feedback that will likely result in a more marketable final product.

It’s cost-effective to make use of prototypes during the design process, and it need not slow the actual time down between the initial idea and it’s arrival on the market. It can in fact speed that process up.

Heavy Equipment Sales Model

If you have a large piece of machinery, heavy equipment vehicle or industrial process that you need to sell to customers you have to make choices about your marketing approach. Phone calls, email,  or face-to-face contact? Probably a combination of all three. A good website – interactive and informative – is imperative. Video testimonial, a detailed brochure and participation at trade shows might be useful.

One approach that is almost out of the question is hauling a huge, bulky piece of equipment to the prospective buyer and saying, “Look, here it is, and let me show you all of its outstanding features.”  It would be effective, but impractical when dealing with oversized products.

A sales model would provide that impact without the cost and logistical impossibility of the real product. Imagine having a detailed sales model of an excavator, a cooling system or a jet engine that travels with the sales team and can be displayed with ease in a variety of settings. A model reproduction of your over-sized product  will inform, impress and engage potential customers, giving a worthy return for your investment.

Why Have a Training Model?

training modelindustrial model for trainingHow many people won’t admit that they have trouble reading blueprints or maps? They might smile and nod as they look over a 2D plan, but not everyone’s mind can translate the information spatially into a 3D image in their head. When it comes to safety training and emergency preparedness, do you want to leave things up to chance with a map? Probably not. If you are going to take the time to sit people down and run through a training exercise or plan of action, it makes sense to do everything in your power to make sure everyone understands the procedures being discussed.

How more frequently would you train personnel on a particular apparatus or piece of equipment if you had a realistic replica to work with rather than the real thing? Gaining experience with a product, or learning how to maintain or maneuver equipment is imperative, but not always possible to do with the real thing safely, cost-effectively or without risk of damage through mishandling.

Training models can be of assistance in both of these scenarios.

A scale model of a particular space – be it a building or other structure – reveals its anatomy accurately and clearly. Exits, entrances, traffic flow, escape routes, locations of important objects, all become readily recognizable to the observer. It makes training procedures to follow during an emergency or other incident more understandable. Instead of everyone pretending that they understand the 2D image presentation of where things are located and what directions to follow in particular scenarios, more people will actually be on board. In an emergency, this lay person’s understanding may make the difference between a positive outcome and a hugely negative one. And isn’t that the purpose of preparedness training after all?

Similarly, using a replica of your product or products to train personnel on, is often more cost-effective and efficient to execute. Realistic training models of your products are less expensive versions of the real thing. They can be used in training exercises without risk of damaging the actual product and without the time or logistical complications of procedures done within the real environment. From firearm simulators like BLUEGUNS, to loading and packing training tools for industrial purposes, models are able to improve performance in an economical, yet productive, way.

You Need an Industrial Model

Industrial modelWhen it comes to sales presentations, having an industrial model sets your product apart from the competition. A color brochure of your product, or a video demonstration will not deliver the impact an industrial model in hand does. A model is ultimately informative, answering specific questions about your design. It can highlight particular features or strengths of your product while providing the necessary focus and excitement to your presentation.

The product itself is often too large, too heavy or simply too cumbersome to travel between sales meetings or trade shows. A model, on the other hand, is portable yet instantly recognizable and understood.  No need to worry that the potential client cannot visualize your product from a 2 dimensional drawing or photograph. This direct understanding about what you are offering will likely translate into a more positive experience and increased sales.

A model maker can work with you to provide an accurate, visually pleasing, detailed-as-you-want model in a user-friendly scale. Specific features can be emphasized on the model, making it easier for your sales staff to illustrate your product’s uniqueness. Duplicate models can be constructed for whole sales teams. No one should go into a presentation without this necessary sales tool in hand!

Trade Show Models Attract Attention

trade show model

A trade show booth should draw potential customers in to explore, interact with, learn about and bond with your product. What better way to meet these goals than with a scale model of your product? A trade show model can represent your design with the utmost accuracy while drawing attention to the features you want to emphasize.


    • It’s often easier to transport a scale model than the product itself, and costs less.
    • Your scale model can be touched and examined close up to see how it functions.
    • A demonstration of your working model draws customers in to interact personally with your product.
    • A 3D model is vision friendly – not everyone can imagine 2D objects in space.
    • Cutaways, see-through design, high impact colors and working parts draw attention to your product’s special features.
    • Custom cases are provided to house and transport your model safely to various shows.

Everyone loves models, making them natural magnets at trade shows. Customers are drawn to these replicas more than the actual product, sparking curiosity and interest in what you have to offer. Interacting with a scale trade show model creates a lasting impression that can translate into more sales.