Wednesday, November 10, 2010

3D Physical Modeling in the AEC Community

This past summer, we conducted a market survey which asked questions about the use of physical modeling in the building design process. The survey was sent to a rented list of architectural firms of all sizes across the US and Canada. Most of the respondents were employed at small firms, so the results are a bit skewed. Despite the small sample size, the answers were enlightening. Let’s look at the first question we asked and the results summary:
Frankly, I was surprised about the low usage of 3D tools in general, and alarmed about the infrequent use of 3D physical models. Remember, we didn’t ask about “3D prints” or “rapid prototypes” – we simply asked if 3D physical models were being used for their projects. Again, this result could be reflective on the state of the industry and the types of projects that architects have been doing during the recession. My guess is that most recent projects did not involve creative 3D multiple design concepts when simple 2D construction documents would suffice.

In a subsequent question we asked, “For those projects where physical models are created, please estimate the percentage use of each of the following 3D physical modeling techniques.” We offered choices which included laser cut materials and assembly, CNC materials/assembly, 3D printing, and handmade models crafted with cardboard, chipboard, foam, etc.

The primary response was … you guessed it – handmade cardboard/chipboard/foam models. These models were constructed mainly by junior designer/architects at lower pay scales. Using this approach is time-consuming and expensive, and results in models which may not reflect the architect’s design or show that design in the best possible light. With the right tools, such as a fast 3D printer with low-cost consumables, great looking 3D physical models can be made without the time and labor expense of doing it the old-fashioned way. And, these models can be used to more proactively engage clients and other stakeholders to accelerate design decisions and approvals.

I would love to hear your views on physical modeling in the design process!  


  1. I think that physical modeling is an intrinsic component of the design process. Be it plotted or hand made, or a combination of the two, it is a fundamental aspect of a healthy design process.