Concept models form a fundamental part of the architectural design and development process and as described here in our on “how to develop architecture concepts”, they can provide a quick and effective method of testing ideas and investigating site constraints.
As we discuss below, a concept model can be created out of just about anything and be as simple or complex as it needs to be. This provides the architect and/or designer with the opportunity to expand their thinking and methods of working way beyond the standard sketches, drawings, and 3D models that are more commonly produced at this stage.
A concept model can be used to enforce a thought process, emotion, feeling, sketch or even a piece of writing; helping to describe and communicate the thinking processes of the architect/designer to the client, design team, colleagues, tutors or even just to themselves.
Even with today’s many means and methods of presenting architecture, physical architecture models still provide one of the most powerful and engaging presentation techniques, and concept models are no different.
Model making at this level and stage in a project provides a very loose and tactile method of working, which above all else is fun (and so it should be!). As your project develops so too will your working methods, and so enjoy this stage while it lasts …its one of the best bits!
In this post we will describe the process behind creating a concept model and look at the various types and methods that can be used.
How to use and create a concept model
The uses of an architectural concept model can be narrowed down to just three areas; Concept Creation, Concept Development, and Concept Presentation.
Concept creation is solely about experimenting and testing. The beauty of working with concept models is that they can be as fast and loose as you want them to be, and can be created from just about anything.
Equally they can be inspired by anything, and with their relative simple means of creation can also be initially very quick to make, and therefore if an idea isn’t working, it can be quickly set aside without too much time lost.
You can create as many abbreviations as you like or just adapt a singular arrangement …everyone’s processes are different.
Once an idea gains traction it’s time to develop and take it as far forward as it will go.
During this stage and in preparation for the next one (presentation) it can be extremely beneficial to keep and record each development, as this will later help communicate your chosen idea.
Your models should be pushed, pulled, stretched, rotated, taken apart, reassembled, simplified, mirrored …anything you can think of that may help with your projects and ideas development.
…and or course experiment with as many different materials as you can, until you find the correct fit.
This is key. In any given situation and particularly in architecture school, you should never present a project for the first time without firstly showing its origins, and this is where concept models become very useful.
As well as being a presentation tool and technique, your models also create and document a particular time in your design process, that demonstrates the projects progression and the journey taken to achieve the finished product.
At this stage its also not uncommon for a final and more presentable concept model to be produced.
Architecture concept model ideas
Ideas for concept models can come in all manner of shapes and sizes and from all types of materials, in fact the more experimental a model is, generally speaking the more successful it is.
There should be a certain level of interpretation, and they should never represent the final building, (that’s a whole different type of architectural model), but show a piece of it .
Concept models can be used to express any number of your projects elements and/or features, the direction you choose to go down is really dependent on where your concept is being derived from.
However in many cases it’s just about picking one and running with it, and then choosing another, and then another.
For example they can be used to investigate:
- Interactions with the site
- The vertical and and horizontal planes (plans and elevations)
- The external and internal materiality
- The outer shell
- Circulation (through and around)
- Structural features or limitations
- Form, proportion and massing
- Its orientation
We have a selection of examples here and as you can see from the below, there are many options to choose from in terms of materiality.
We’ve had a lot of fun in the past with concrete, and often found that the finished product once it has been removed from its mold became more of an artefact than a model.
Making a concept model
Due to the varying nature and level of detail the author can put into their concept models, creating them is really a very unscripted process that can use just about any material and any method available.
Do not however over complicate your models, a good concept model should present one or two ideas really well, and therefore if you have more, then make more models.
We recommend spending as much time in the architecture workshop as possible and just experiment, its one of the best places to be in architecture school or indeed in practice (if you are lucky enough to work somewhere that has its own model workshop).
Aside from the more common model making materials, using materials gathered from your projects site can be useful in helping to understand the context in which your project will sit, and may investigate vernacular methods of construction.
– Paper Models
Paper can provide a very quick and relatively easy method of making concept models, particularly where there are curves or folds involved. It can be used in many ways by cutting, bending, twisting and folding, in fact there is a very good by Paul Jackson on this exact subject called Folding Techniques for Designers: From Sheet to Form (Amazon link here)
Paper can also be strengthened by applying and stacking additional layers on top of one another, making it a very adaptable and readily available choice of material.
Examples of paper concept models here
As mentioned above, 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.
Examples of concrete concept models here
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.
Examples of cork concept models here
Resin requires a similar technique to concrete in the way of mold making and the curing process, but with a much more labor intensive process required. That said, the final results can be stunning and with its high level of difficulty you may be the only one using this method.
Examples of resin concept models here
– 3D Printing
3D printing at any scale can be expensive and time consuming, and so in most circumstances it is not suited to the quick of the cuff development models.
It can however be an excellent choice for your final concept model, but be mindful of the price it will cost and the time required to set up the 3D model.
Most workshops will stock an abundance of wood in all manner of shapes and sizes, and so this will be very accessible, as well as being easy to work with.
You will see from the attached examples that when it comes to wooden concept models, the simpler the better.
Examples of wooden concept models here
– Laser cut
Once the files are set up, this can be a very quick way of achieving lots of united models. The most successful ones are however where the burnt edges have been sanded off, as this provides a much more tidy and natural aesthetic.
Examples of wooden concept models here
– Site objects
As mentioned above, finding and using objects and materials from your site can really boost your concept models meaning by providing an extra level of relevance. The abstract the better.
So enjoy this process and experiment! …and to find out how a concept compares to a schematic click here