When used as an integral part of the design process, study models are capable of generating information in time comparable to drawing and offer one of the strongest exploration methods available. The strategies and techniques presented provide a broad range of options. However, because we are primarily concerned with the design process, sometimes elaborate presentation models are not stressed. Instead, work is explored with quick-sketch constructions and simple finish models that can be built with materials suitable for studio or in-house construction. Although most of the projects are approached from an architectural perspective, the techniques apply equally well to three-dimensional artwork and industrial design. There are several reasons why models should be part of every design process. Perhaps the most important one is the understanding to be gained by seeing form in physical space. This physical presence allows the designer to interact directly with the model and obtain instant feedback. Another benefit inherent to physical models, as opposed to computer drawings, is the relationship they share with buildings by existing in the world of dynamic forces. While the correspondence is not an exact analog, physical models can be used to predict structural behavior. This role is traditional in the case of models made for wind tunnels and ship design. Finally, the communicative power of the physical model overcomes problems inherent in conveying three-dimensional dimensional computer drawings to a gathering of clients.
The most notable change in the architectural model industry is the use of digital information for the development of design and communication. Accordingly, the information concerning digital modeling programs has been updated, along with the interface between modeling programs and the growing use of rapid prototyping processes. With the advent of rapid prototyping, a hybrid has emerged that bridges the limitations of computer modeling and points to a future in which it will be possible to exploit the strong points of both methods. Another important shift in technology is the use of digital media to record and present design work. Cumbersome tasks such as copying, modifying, and superimposing posing images have become quicker and less expensive. Other topics undergoing revision include new examples of student projects as well as urban and industrial design models.
During Egyptian and Greco-Roman times, architectural models were made primarily as symbols. In the Middle Ages with the advent of the cathedrals, masons would move through the countryside carrying models of their particular expertise such as arch building. During the Renaissance, models were used as a means to attract the support of patrons (as in the case of the Domo in Florence, Italy). As architectural education became dominated by Beaux Arts training, models were supplanted almost completely by drawing. Architecture was conceived in large part as elevation and plan studies, with three-dimensional media having little relevance. However, by the late 1800s, architects such as Antonio Gaudi began using models as a means to explore structural ideas and develop an architectural language.
By the turn of the century, the seeds of modern architecture had begun to take root. With it came a perspective that looked at architecture as the experience of movement through space. Orthographic and perspective drawing were recognized to be limited exploration methods, giving rise to the model as a design tool. In the 1920s and 1930s, the Bauhaus and architects such as Le Corbusier elevated the use of modeling to an integral component of architectural education and practice. During the 1950s, modernism embodied form by translating highly reductive designs into one or two simple Platonic solids (cube, cylinder, etc). With this shift, beyond providing a means of apprehending scale and massing, the model’s role began to wane. As the hegemony of corporate modernism was fractured in the late 1970s, spatial exploration ration followed a number of new branches and the model regained its position as a powerful tool for exploration. In the early 1990s, the model’s role was challenged by a shift in technology. At this point, it was suggested that CAD and modeling programs could substitute digital simulations for all experiences. While many of the advantages offered by digital media did prove to offer positive benefits, efits, the condition of removal inherent to the virtual experience could not be easily overcome. In reaction to the problem of removal, Ben Damon, an architect with Morphosis phosis (a pioneering office in rapid prototyping), ing), responds to the idea of a completely digital modeling environment by stating, “Physical models will never go away.” He goes on to add that the immediacy and direct relationship offered by the physical model play a vital role in design development. Similar sentiments are echoed by James Glymph with Frank Gehry Partners LLP. In regard to digital modeling, Mr. Glymph points out that “it would be a serious mistake to think it could replace models and drawing entirely.” With these realizations has come a resurgence of interest in traditional physical models and the introduction of rapid prototype models aimed at reconnecting digital and physical design methods.