Scale models as a communication tool in architecture

What do all architects have in common? The need to communicate effectively with people who are not architects.

Communication is key in successful architectural projects. Effective communication can prevent misunderstandings, guesswork and misinterpretations, ultimately saving time, money and effort. While architects are accustomed to visualizing buildings from sketches and screens, your average person is not. In this, all mediums of communication are not created equal.

Different architects have different design processes and ways to communicate. Some prefer drawings, some find value in digital 3D modeling, some believe in the power of scale models and others combine all of these together. What they all have in common is the need to communicate their vision to people who are not architects.

As Samuli Woolston from ALA Architects summed up, there’s nothing like a model to explain a form. 2D drawings and 3D renderings transform an idea into a project, but scale models turn a project into a reality in the mind of the beholder. Being able to hold the model, to see and touch it, allows you to explore an idea from every angle. Architectural models quickly communicate design concepts and allow people from different backgrounds to easily comprehend a project.

In fact, many architects use handcrafted scale models for communication. But handcrafted models are laborious, time-consuming and not always completely accurate. Nevertheless, architects are trained to think in 3D, and with the help of new technology like 3D printing, you can improve your ability to communicate in the same terms. An accurate and detailed 3D printed model can bring your communication to another level, effortlessly.

Ease your communication with clients

Trust is built on communication, and trust is the foundation of a relationship between an architect and a client. To build this relationship it is essential to communicate with clients in a language they can understand. Physical models enable everyone to grasp a concept intuitively, regardless of architectural understanding.

Models let your clients see and feel your design with incredible attention to detail. Unlike hand-built scale models, 3D printed models can be printed in pieces, letting you play with them by unfolding it and exploring every floor or element.

Let your clients capture your design idea with incredible attention to details. Bring your model alive by printing the whole interior with furniture and people. Source: Clipgoo

Let your clients capture your design idea with incredible attention to details. Bring your model alive by printing the whole interior with furniture and people. Source: Clipgoo

Designing a building or a project is always a matter of heart for clients, and expectations are understandably high. Living up to those expectations can be daunting. Especially when communicating what they are can sometimes be difficult for clients. They might be unsure or unable to articulate their needs in architectural terms. Most people appreciate having options and the ability to affect design decisions. With tangible options at hand, clients can easily discover what they want and what they don’t. Exploring these options at an early stage of the design process, results in less time-consuming changes at later stages.

3D printing is able to facilitate this. You can easily create several variations of your design in a short period of time with low costs. Print your design in pieces and let your client play with elements. Discuss your design today, determine on the changes needed and print an improved version to present by tomorrow. The resulting quicker feedback loops shorten the time needed for your design process and hence the whole project.

Improve the relationship with constructors

Communication with third parties is at least as important as with clients. The success of a project is the sum of various people working towards the same goal. This requires that architects, constructors, and engineers are all on the same page. Mistakes resulting from misinterpretation and unclear information transfer can prove costly, and you can’t overdo the measures to reduce them.

Effective communication ensures that your project is completed as planned and with minimal surprises resulting from misinterpretations. Third parties need to understand your intention and idea behind your design to avoid mistakes in your project. 3D printing a model based on your BIM model lets you effectively and accurately portray your plans. A scale model correlating exactly with a development plan can be used by the constructors for further planning.

Create easily assembled models and increase the amount of information transferred to constructors and engineers. University College London Hospitals. Image © Steffian Bradley Architects; Source: Archdaily

Create easily assembled models and increase the amount of information transferred to constructors and engineers. University College London Hospitals. Image © Steffian Bradley Architects; Source: Archdaily

Models can act as a medium for deeper collaboration between architects and constructors. Working more together results in constructors not just being the ones to realize a project, but to actually affect it, resulting in aesthetic, functional and innovative buildings and spaces. Innovations are created from these merges of expertise — they just require the tools to enable them.

After smoothing out communication bumps during the project, your 3D printed model remains a valuable communication tool even once the project is completed. Architectural models make stunning public displays and are an excellent way to showcase your portfolio of projects. How often do you go back to old sketches, or visit your creations in person? Models let you easily return to projects especially dear to you.

Models make your designs tangible. They supplement the theoretical nature of blueprints, drawings, or even digital 3D models, and bring a new dimension of perception. This new dimension can prove a crucial one, sometimes even making the difference between a successful project and a failed one.

Are you curious to learn more about the various applications of 3D printed models in architecture? Keep in touch with usWe’re currently developing a 3D printer with architects, for architects— Join the discussion on Facebook or sign up for notifications on our development.

Julio Tiusanen