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Model Making in the 4D Studio

By June 13, 2024June 16th, 2024No Comments

Physical model making has always played a huge part in architecture – from initial visualisation and early design stages to presenting to clients. However, the rise of digital modelling technologies, virtual reality and generative AI that can conjure amazing renders, walk-throughs and images has seen new approaches to conceptual realisation.

But at 4D Studio Architects we feel physical model making is still  part of the design process and that it engages the full range of senses and represents a creative and tactile approach to problem solving that works alongside the digitised world and we have recently completed a modelling excercise that tests the capacity of a small 3D printer. Architects have been using 3D printers for years, so the process of printing architectural 3D models isn’t new, but over the last few weeks, we have been experimenting with the process of creating a large model of our design for the very extensive Crown Works Film Studio in Sunderland. The completed development will occupy approximately a kilometre of the land alongside the south bank of the River Wear  so a large model was required.

The finished model does look good, and the attention generated in the office regarding this project has been very interesting to watch develop. The small 3D printer we have has a 25cm x 25cm footprint which presented challenges to how to build a model that even at 1:1000 scale is 160cm x 60cm. So, we decided to have the baseboard made for us in wood by a local model maker. However at 160cm x 60cm it would be too large to transport easily, so we took the decision to make the model in two halves. We were then able to build the individual buildings, sometimes in sections, and add them to the baseboard. What you see here is one half of the model.

The process is not quick. The printer is not very large and while it does make some noise and put out some heat, the people who sit nearby had a pretty good attitude about it despite the fact we were printing for days. To highlight the new buildings and differentiate them from the existing ones, we decided to paint them terracotta coloured. That looks good. At this scale, the individual buildings are relatively small but carry sufficient detail to give a good impression of what the finished development will look like.

This process was extremely rewarding and in the four weeks we have spent on this, we’ve learned that it takes an extremely long time to create a finished-looking product using a 3D printer, but there are significant ancillary benefits this process created within the firm

One of the interesting effects was the amount of interest in the process that was generated. Our office is constantly working on dozens of amazing projects at any one moment and we must try to show everyone what is happening on projects that they aren’t specifically working on. When we were printing out this model virtually everyone came to check it out.

An important benefit of printing out models in house is because it helps support a design culture in the office. To that end, we prepared this model as a personal exploration and endorsement of the design of the film studio that already has planning permission and not for the benefit of the client who has already accepted the design. Of course, they will reap the benefits of us going through this process, but this model was purely a result of us trying to be better at our craft.

Despite the speed with which wow-factor CGI renders can be generated from the digital design tools that teams are now using – not to mention fly-throughs, immersive virtual reality and more recently almost instantaneous generative AI imaging – the physical model still retains its power, and helps people to understand how a building works in ways that flattering CGI renders cannot.


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