At an internal “Design Open Studio” a few weeks ago, the conversation focused on the continued relevance of physical sketch models as an exploratory tool in the design process. While the proliferation of 3D modeling programs may suggest that the days of building sketch models are over, the fact is that hands-on model making is still a vital tool for us to iteratively explore design ideas in three dimensions. Unlike even the most flexible modeling software, which is limited by the need for validated input, a hands-on sketch model can offer more spontaneous freedom to explore and flesh out multiple options quickly. Seen in this context, more traditional visualization tools such as model building and drawing continue to have certain advantages over computer simulation as a process for rapid prototyping.
We assembled models from projects across the office to facilitate the discussion about the ways that different types of models can help resolve design issues at different phases of a project. Quick “thumbnail” massing models like the one used early in the design process for Hamline University’s Anderson Center (pictured here) not only demonstrate how the design team explored thematic variations to arrive at a final massing concept, but they also offer a narrative for the design process and the depth of thinking that goes into a project and provide a valuable visualization tool to explain the concept to clients. Later in the design process, more finished and larger scale detail models help us validate, refine, and confirm tectonic issues related to detail, materials, and scale.
We concluded that we need to continue to use models as exploratory tools in our design process, and encourage bringing model making more seamlessly into the studio environment.
Jay Verspyck AIA, LEED AP, is a senior designer at Shepley Bulfinch.