Architectural Modeling Materials, Tools & Resources

Even with the vast amount of visualization styles and methods, it's still incredibly hard to beat a physical architectural model, and both young and old architects love them!
Architectural Modeling Materials, Tools & Resources

Even with the vast amount of visualization styles and methods, it’s still incredibly hard to beat a physical model, and both young and old architects love them! But the right architectural modeling materials must be used.

From a block model to a full-fledged replica, they remain one the best and most immersive mechanisms of communication and tools for translating the architecture’s design intent. 

With the potential to make a strong and ever-lasting impact upon its audience, they help us perceive the spatial relationship of different spaces and volumes within the context to its surroundings. 

Aside from this they are also incredibly fun (for the most part!) to create, and a chance for architects to experiment and test alternative finishes and surfaces through using the vast amount of alternative modeling materials that are available.

…and so here we’ve created a list and breakdown of the most popular architectural model materials that we like to use, followed by a short list of the core model making items of equipment required to successfully work with them. 

What materials are used to make architectural models?

Architectural Models can have a wide variety of material options for various different phases, but all share one commonality – they must be relatively solid, stable and should not be reactive to common room environment. So starting with one of the most flexible materials…

Paper Materials

Paper is one of the most common materials used in the model-making industry due to their inexpensiveness. It is easy to cut, bend, and manipulate thus perfect for quick volume study and conceptual models.

Kraft paper

This cardboard color paper works great with abstract site designs and chipboards. It is highly elastic and doesn’t tear easily. The material works great with monochromatic model styles and is highly durable.

Sulphite paper  

Sulphite paper is made from wood pulp, but due to its acidic condition during manufacturing it is not as strong as kraft paper.

The paper itself is acid-free and recyclable, and is readily available at a very low cost and is perfect for block and conceptual volumes. It can be easily worked with scissors and some tape.

Trace

Trace is the perfect material to be used for translucent surfaces such as to glass windows in a building, fabrics, and even modeling rough terrain on a site.

Sandpaper

Sandpaper can be used both as a material and a tool in architectural model making. It is a perfect material to show rough textures like paths and walls, or manicured green roofs. As a tool, it is ideal for smoothing edges and a clean finish.

Card materials

Card come in many different color options and finishes whilst providing a much greater thickness and rigidity than paper, and remaining just as flexible to work with.

As a result and due to its huge variety and availability, this material group is one of the most widely used.

Museum board

Museum board is a premium material and should predominantly be considered for final presentation models. It is extremely easy to work with and provides a consistent color throughout, but be mindful that when working with lighter shades there is a high chance of dirt and fingerprints.

Corrugated cardboard

This is one of the most easily sourced materials and in most cases, you can get it for free. It is excellent for initial study models but can also provide a good model base and/or be used to represent contours. Pro tip – There are options for a finer grain that can provide the effect of corrugated metal sheets.

White card

White card is another material that is widely used due to its availability, cost, and flexibility to adapt to many alternative modelling scenarios. The sheets are smooth and universally plain in color, that when combined create a neutral surface to communicate form and light with.

Wood materials

Wood has been used for a very long time as an architectural modeling material due to its wide variety, durability, and a greater level of detail. There are several types of wood available with good finishes, different weights, and ease of cutting and shaping to make excellent presentation models.

Madeira balsa 

Madeira balsa is a fantastic entry level wood material for beginners to get to grips with before moving onto other soft and hard woods, as its light, easy to cut, and comes in a full range thickness and lengths.

Balsa can easily be manipulated by sandpaper or paint to provide various finishes – wood or white glue can be used to join the surfaces together.

Basswood

Basswood comes with a little more hardness and higher grain than balsa and is highly recommended if you are making an all-wood model. It comes in various shapes, planks, and sticks so you can pick out suitable options but sits at the premium end of the materials.

Chipboard

Mostly popular among students of architecture who consider this material due to its inexpensiveness and versatility. It can be a duplex or triplex board depending upon its layer. The board is very easy to work with and blends easily with other materials thus can be used from simple block model to final presentation model.

Match sticks

Match sticks can be considered to be cheap basswood. If you can find different sizes, they can be a used to make a wide variety of models. They can even be used to create elements in your final model.

Architecture Model Materials

Foam Materials

Form it renowned for its low cost, easy availability, and aesthetics, and provides a quick and highly adaptable resource for making early stage volumetric and concept models. It becomes less successful when making final presentation models.

XPS foam

The XPS foam is rigid and is mostly used to give rock and other organic site textures, it can be worked upon even without a lot of skill as most of the model finish is quite basic. The price of the material can vary upon its thickness.

Foam core board 

Popular among students and one of the first materials to be discovered. These boards are white and come in various thicknesses. They are easy to cut and sturdy, which makes them a great material for creating white clean models.

Foam board is relatively lightweight and early transport, but as a result can be easily damaged if care isn’t taken to protect its edges.

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Transparent materials

Transparent materials can give a model a very aesthetic appeal. They are mostly used to replicate the glass and look very beautiful with light arrangements such that it enhances the façade of the model. They can be integrated with different materials such as wood or plastic.

Mylar

Mylar is used to duplicated translucent surfaces, it has a higher rigidity than trace which makes it a better option for glass windows but cuts just nicely.

Sheet acetate

Sheet acetate can also be used to create translucent surfaces but then you have to sand the back of the sheet to produce such effects. This is important because glasses are transparent only at night when the light comes from within the building thus giving the model a more realistic look.

Metal Materials

Metal is used to demonstrate the structural design of a building. It can also be integrated as a material into the finished model. Due to it’s malleable and ductile nature, some of the common metals used are aluminium and copper.  

Florist Wire 

Florist wires are great for landscaping in a model be it trees in an urban design model or fenestration to models.

Wire

Wire screen material is used for more organic and skin-like details. They are also used as an external detail or layer over a façade. 

Thin sheet materials 

Thin metal sheets can be used anywhere from the fencing of a model to the exterior façade.

Other materials

Clay – Clay is a great option as an initial model where you can perform an additive and subtractive study of volume. It can also be used as an adhesive element between two materials.

Cork – Cork offers something a little different with its uniform surface and texture, and for this reason it is most popularly used as a surface to represented a sites typography. However it can also be carved into and treated much more like a sculpture, if it is bought in blocks rather than sheets.

Zip ties – Zip ties can be cut or directly used on external models as detail, fencing, and different fenestration details in a model.  

Plaster – Plaster has a unique texture and finish, and can be used for individual model elements as well as complete model castings.

Concrete – As mentioned here, concrete is one of our favorite materials to work with when model making, however its not suited to every project nor is it a quick process. Molds must firstly be made and then time must be allowed for the concrete to dry and set before it can be revealed.

But once finished, the objects you can create can be quite special and carry a lot more gravitas that say a card model …just look at the image below.

Textures can be added to the surface of your models depending on what material and how you choose to create your mold, and you can also pigment the concrete prior to casting in any color of your choosing …creating quite a vast amount of variables.

Tools and resources for architectural models

Here we’ve put together a list of what we consider to be the best and most essential model making tools that are used on a daily basis by every good architect, designer and student.

  1. Model Making: A Basic Guide
  2. Model Making: A Basic Guide

    Model Making is an introduction to the craft for students of architecture; landscape architecture; urban, interior, and theatrical design; or anyone who has the need or desire to make the large small.

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  3. Model Making
  4. Model Making

    The ancient craft of architectural model making may seem unnecessary in today's age of digital renderings and virtual tours, but physical models remain a uniquely revealing and compelling tool for the architect. 

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  5. Copic Sketch Markers
  6. Copic Sketch Markers

    Replaceable tips

    Ethanol-based ink

    Permanent, non-toxic and dries acid-free

    Compatible with Copic Air Brushing System


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  7. Scotch Masking Tape
  8. Scotch Masking Tape

    Strong adhesive

    Bonds aggressively, yet has a smooth unwind

    Size: 0.94 inch x 60.1 yard

    Pack Size: 6 Rolls/Pack


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  9. QUICK HEAT CERAMIC GLUE GUN
  10. QUICK HEAT CERAMIC GLUE GUN
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  11. Precision Knife
  12. Precision Knife

    Precision knife with number 11 fine point blade for exact cuts

    Sharp and durable zirconium nitride coated blade

    Lightweight aluminum handle is easy to maneuver

    Easily cuts paper, fabric, thin metal, and plastic


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  13. Engineers Square
  14. Engineers Square
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  15. White Unpainted Architectural 1:100 Scale Model Figures Pack of 100
  16. White Unpainted Architectural 1:100 Scale Model Figures Pack of 100
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  17. Extruded Aluminum Cutting Rule
  18. Extruded Aluminum Cutting Rule

    A metal non slip ruler featuring rubber grips on base and recessed finger grip area for safety ,make this ruler ideal for arts and crafts. Metal ruler featuring recessed finger channel with non slip base Finger grip area to protect fingers when used for cutting.

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  19. Uhu 38106 All Purpose Adhesive - 125ml Tube
  20. Uhu 38106 All Purpose Adhesive - 125ml Tube
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  21. Large Self Healing Cutting Mat
  22. Large Self Healing Cutting Mat

    Self-healing cutting mat, protect your working table surface, The mat surface was soft PVC, don't hurt the cutter blade, Blades are much more durable.You can use this mat as a desktop protector or DIY cutting board at your room, home, school or office


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  23. 16pc Precision Architecture Scalpel Set
  24. 16pc Precision Architecture Scalpel Set

    This kit is specifically designed for applications requiring a precise, accurate cut. It features the most popular hobby knife blades covering projects on both light weight & heavy weight materials.

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  25. Elmers E1321 Multi-Purpose Liquid Glue
  26. Elmers E1321 Multi-Purpose Liquid Glue
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  27. Cork Board Sheet Roll
  28. Cork Board Sheet Roll
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  29. Corrugated Cardboard Sheets
  30. Corrugated Cardboard Sheets
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  31. Pack of 10 Foam Boards
  32. Pack of 10 Foam Boards
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  33. 10 Pack Basswood Sheet
  34. 10 Pack Basswood Sheet

    Made of basswood

    Unfinished and unpainted, natural color

    Size:300mm×200mm×1.5mm


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  35. OLFA OLF-L-2
  36. OLFA OLF-L-2

    Ratchet-lock blade actuator

    Pistol-shaped handle design with anti-slip rubber inset

    Stainless steel blade channel

    No tool blade change - Convenient lanyard hole

    Preloaded with an 18mm LB heavy-duty silver snap-off blade


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  37. Triangular Architectural 12 inch Aluminum Scale Ruler
  38. Triangular Architectural 12 inch Aluminum Scale Ruler

    12inch Triangular Architect Scale Designed To Facilitate The Drafting And Measuring Of Architectural Drawings, Such As Floor Plans, Blue Prints, And Orthographic Projections

    Triangular Ruler Made From High Impact Aluminum, Build To Last, Architect Ruler With Durable Laser Cut Imperial Prints For Accuracy. They Will Not Wipe Or Scratch Off Ever.

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Stop searching for CAD blocks!

Format your drawings with the correct set of tools. This CAD template enables you as a designer to spend your time on what matters – the design!

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. John Wilkins

    Can you tell me what the best way is to cut 4mm acrylic sheet?

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