Architectural Model


Many architects plan buildings around a few basic forms-- the triangle, cylinder, cone, and sphere, as well as the rectangular box.

The pictures below show how some of these basic forms can be combined.





see thumbnail to leftThe Acropolis in Athens, Greece, about 300 BC.

The most prominent building, near the top, is the temple known as the Parthenon.

Which basic forms do you see in this building's design?

A narrow cylinder-like form was used repeatedly as the means of supporting a roof. At the building's two ends, the roof is supported by a triangular form.






see thumbnail to rightFlorence, Italy's Renaissance cathedral, Santa Maria del Fiore, called the Duomo, was constructed between 1298 and 1462. Its dome was designed by Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446). The form of the dome is based upon a sphere.




see thumbnail to leftCombining a triangle with a rectangle, this window is part of the Renaissance palace designed by Andrea Palladio (1508-1580). The Villa Rotonda, near Vicenza, Italy, was built in the 1500s. Notice what forms Palladio included in this design.




Architecture is the art and science of planning safe, well-constructed buildings that meet people's needs, including their need for attractive spaces in which to live and work. You may wish to take a look at another page defining architecture, and illustrating more examples.


Name some other examples of architecture you know.

Play an architectural history game.


In this lesson you'll learn about some of the ways architects see and think about the forms, or 3-D qualities of buildings.


Your Assignment:


Imagine you are an architect!

Create a
of a building


Do some research first. (Look at buildings in your area, and pictures of buildings in books, magazines, on the Web, etc.)

Make sketches and try some of the paper cutting-folding-gluing techniques suggested below.

What kind of building will you design?

Make forms with removable tape. This step will let you join the forms neatly. It will help you to plan and lightly sketch where the details, such as windows, should go on each form.

Remove the tape and take the model apart so that you can draw and color details on the flat parts. Then glue the parts together again to finish the model.


Here's a list of materials to get together:

  • white glue (or hot glue)
  • removable tape (less sticky transparent or masking tape)
  • scissors
  • razor knife (X-ACTO brand knife, #11 blade, or its equivalent. See notes below.)
  • paper clips
  • ruler
  • pencil
  • construction paper and/or cardboards (if you can get them, "foam-core" boards are what many architects use). These come in many colors, but can be painted and drawn upon too.
  • photographs of historically important buildings
  • any other materials that will improve your model 





Ideas about making three-dimensional shapes:

1. Find some scrap cardboard boxes. Take them apart, examining the shapes that were cut and folded in order to make them out of flat pieces. Imagine how various changes to your examples would result in different objects when reassembled. (The most elegant forms are usually made from as few pieces as possible, but use more whenever necessary.) Notice too what was done to keep these boxes from coming apart-- tabs in slots, glue, tape, staples, etc.

2. Buildings made only of rectangles and right angles are so common as to be very boring. You should make more unusual forms once you've made some typical ones. One of the reasons boxes are so often rectalinear is that they're easier (cheaper) to construct. Making stairs, for example-- whether straight or spiralling-- requires much more care than making a box. Cones and cylinders are actually pretty easy to make by comparison. Consider too some odd shapes you can make with little or no planning, creating a few as though by accident. (Get playful!) Turning such forms in your hands, consider how and why you might alter such odd forms, or make more pleasing versions of them.

3. You may find that some of the shapes you want are available as common scraps. As with the shapes you shape yourself, you can either alter found objects or use them as found. Consider paper-towel tubes and other packaging materials. Also plumbing, carpentry, and hardware stuff. Even the hemisphere for a dome might be devised quite easily using a ball no one will miss.


Cutting paper and cardboard requires care to be safe, neat, and easy:

1. Place a clean piece of scrap cardboard beneath your work, large enough to protect the surface of the furniture on which you'll cut. Replace this protective surface if it gets too worn.

 2. Using sharp tools is dangerous, whether you're careful or not. So keep first-aid equipment handy in case of an accident. The best way to avoid needing first-aid: always make sure that your hands and fingers are not in the direct path of your knife. Follow your instructors' advice! BE CAUTIOUS!

3. Tightly secure a fresh blade into a well made handle, such as any of the X-ACTO brand knives shown above. Hold the handle firmly, with the edge of the blade at a 45% angle to the surface. Your cutting strokes should be made with a smooth, downward-pulling gesture. For straight cuts, run the blade against the side of a metal-edged ruler, making sure that your fingers are behind the edge against which you are cutting-- out of the blade's way. For each stroke apply only what downward pressure you can easily control, and repeat each stroke as many times as necessary to cut as deeply as needed. Plan each stroke in your mind's eye before making it.

4. Avoid running your fingers along newly cut edges. They're sharp too!

5. "Scoring" cardboard makes it easier to fold. Scoring in this sense means cutting only part of the way through the cardboard's thickness (requiring a careful touch!). It's a great way to insure good edges.



An example of an architectural model:


see thumbnail to leftFrank Lloyd Wright (American, 1869-1959), Model for the Gordon Strong Automobile Objective on Sugarloaf Mountain, Maryland, 1924-1925, its scale: 1 inch = 50 feet (area represented: approximately 1/2 mile by 1/2 mile). There are two other views of this model, the first and second. This model was made in 1995-96 by George Ranalli, architect, with Aaron McDonald and Nathaniel Worden, model makers. They made it with basswood and birch.

Gordon Strong (1869-1954) was a wealthy man who owned all of Sugarloaf Mountain, one of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Mr. Strong decided to turn it into a tourist attraction, placing a structure on the mountain's summit that allowed visitors to see its magnificent views. He said the building must be "striking, impressive, . . . enduring, so that the structure will constitute a permanent and credible monument." In 1924 he hired Wright, who conceived the building as a grand spiral that would be the terminus of the roadway itself. Although the design was never built, this model was made to help us to better visualizewhat it would have looked like. Wright described it in several sketches: a perspective, a perspective with spire and plan, a lower-level plan, a section, elevation, and plan, and an upper-level plan.






  1. In describing your model, name the building types involved in it, forms that were assembled, and the details that you added.

  2. Discuss ways you might propose to improve the models
    (strictly speculation)-- others' models as well as your own-- and to arrange them in a display.

  3. Describe how the form of your building will fit its function.

  4. Describe how the ways in which your building reflects the time and place in which it has been created.

  5. Analyze and interpret how technological and scientific advances in the visual arts and other disciplines (e.g., literature, science, mathematics) influence the creation of your building.




where you'll find information on these art vocabulary (looking at most will require your scroll to find them on an alphabetical list):

Ask your math teacher to explain what scale measurement is, and how to figure it. Consider cutting out shapes that represent human figures, and then place them next to uour models. Try figures of several scales (heights) and determine which scale looks the best and why.

With a science teacher or a building engineer or contractor, speculate on some of the scientific principles and mathematical problems that architects must solve to design and construct buildings with curved forms, great height, great spans, or great mass.


Return to the Sculpture Unit Introductory Page.