Modelling the future

1:200 concept exhibitiom model created for the Royal Academy 2019 Summer Exhibition showing DMA’s design for a tower with a prominent vertical garden / DMA model maker, Marcello Moroni / 3D printed model of Park Street, Cambridge

At DMA we routinely work with the full range of architectural technology, including BIM models, CGI renderings and fly-throughs. While they can be very useful they are no substitute for a physical model.

It allows us to do many things from testing the material presence of the building and the way spaces and light interact, to viewing the design in relation to its surroundings.

At their simplest, models are loosely assembled structures of card held together with pins, a 3D manifestation of an initial sketch which can be manipulated as our design thinking develops. It’s like the difference between computer drawing and sketching. Hand sketching is often said to be a dying art in architectural practices. This is a shame. We are not saying that technology does not have its place, but there is something in the way the physical act of moving a pencil or pen on paper helps the brain develop ideas. Models can work in the same way.

As design concepts develop and become more detailed so do the models expressing them. In these later stages they will be built to a larger scale out of a range of materials including foam, blocks, card, wood and glass. Some models are even built to full scale to illustrate particular elements of a design.

As well as helping the design process, models are a fantastic communication tool. Imagine trying to engage a room of people with your beautifully conceived design.

A 3D model can convey a real sense of depth, dimension and text in a tactile way. At an early stage of the project this is a useful way of engaging all stakeholders in the design process.

Models can be used to describe complicated or unusual design details to builders and other consultants. They can also be used to explain and ‘sell’ a design to clients, planners, local authorities and the wider public. They add a ‘wow’ factor to presentations and can even be interactive with elements that pop and light up, flash, float, pulsate or rotate, all with interactive speed or direction controls. Finally, models can be used as exhibition pieces in the completed building and museums.

We are fortunate at DMA in that our in-house model making capability is integral to the practice. Far from being an outdated tool, superseded by the seemingly unstoppable march of technology, we believe model-making is here to stay, now and in the future.