From the Preservation Studio, General

Why We Do What We Do #3: Why We Model

The Home Depot recently announced a pilot program to begin selling consumer-grade 3-D printers. Not far behind, Walmarts in the UK have begun providing actual 3-D printing services right in the store. All of which begs the question, why do architects still build models?

Why did we build models?

In the timeline of the Architect’s toolkit, modeling may be relatively young—but this is still on the magnitude of centuries rather than millennia. Perhaps the most well known historic model is Christopher Wren’s St. Paul’s Cathedral.

St. Paul's Cathedral Model

Christopher Wren’s model for St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. (image:

This scaled model of painted wood nearly fills a room, large enough for a viewer to partially stand inside. The model was intended to sell an idea, to incite feelings of grandeur by accurately mimicking scale. It also took years to build. In the past models both showed and sold what drawings couldn’t, especially in terms of spatial relationships and overall design.

Why do we build models?

But doesn’t the digital model render physical models obsolete? In many ways, yes. They are quicker and cheaper to produce, easier to transport and modify, and can be flown through in even more ways than a physical model. Why, then, does start-up Wobble Works have over $1 Million in funding for a 3-D printing pen? The hand-held device creates miniature models by “drawing” with thin layers of ABS plastic.

Model created by 3-D printing pen. (image:

Model created by 3-D printing pen. (image:

Perhaps models are changing from the fully realized representation of an idea to something much more suggestive. Rapid prototyping is now driving what used to be a tedious, refined process. Models are now a quick means of presenting many iterations of an idea, and not a slow means of clearly presenting a single idea.

Does CRSA build models?

CRSA’s use of model building is certainly more limited with the prevalence of computer models. Plus, not all projects have the budget, time-frame, or design to take advantage of what a physical model offers. But model building still has an application in our office; it still fills a role that nothing else has been able to match. We recently completed a full-scale model to explore renovations to the Harrington School in American Fork. With correctly scaled details and a removable roof, the model both helped us determine how to best preserve the historic character of the building, and helped explain the complex auditorium space to the client. If models are not the default “final product” they once were, they are still no doubt an important part of the expansive toolbox needed to communicate space.

CRSA-Harrington School

CRSA’s model of Harrington School with Steve Cornell and John Ewanowski.

“Why We Do What We Do” is an ongoing series exploring common practices that architects and builders have employed for hundreds of years, and how those same practices are being reinvented, but not necessarily replaced, in the modern age. Other entries include: Why We Build UpWhy We Draw


2 thoughts on “Why We Do What We Do #3: Why We Model

  1. Pingback: Why We Do What We Do #1: Why We Build Up | The CRSA Blog

  2. Pingback: Why We Do What We Do #2: Why We Draw | The CRSA Blog

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