Architectural Model Precedent Studies Creative Learning Method in Architecture Pedagogy for International Students at UniSA

DOI : 10.17577/IJERTCONV10IS03023

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Architectural Model Precedent Studies Creative Learning Method in Architecture Pedagogy for International Students at UniSA

Ar. Manali Nitin Chandan

Assistant Professor Sinhgad College of Architecture

Pune, India

Abstract The contribution of model-making in the process of architectural design is indispensable. At present, the architectural model isn't just an introduction apparatus in the toolset of an architect, moreover – it is an imaginative item for everybody. This research was conducted during the final semester of my masters at UniSA (University of South Australia) and primarily aims at studying photography-based exemplar/precedent and analyzing the supplied models to create a document that aids future international students studying at UniSA to inform their design process and resolve design problems faced in the past. Secondly, it helps in solving problems in a design process that previously have been resolved by other designers and are demonstrated in their design projects. This is done by photo-documenting a range of architectural models of varying scales, types and further assessing the skills and knowledge that are embedded within them from the perspective of an international student who did not complete their Bachelor of Architecture from UniSA before commencing the MArch (Masters of Architecture). Selected models are wide-ranging: from compositional technique, construction method, material choice, and design concept, etc. Further, with a focus group study of students, faculty, and professionals who enhanced and shared their perspective to corroborate the analysis towards documentation. The objective is to inform how subsequent students use precedents to inform their design process. The paper concludes by designing a short course and document using this research and development to fill the gap.

KeywordsModel-making, precedent study, International students, short course, hybrid course.


    In Architecture, precedents are used to inform the design process from concept to final design. These act like case studies that represent the knowledge behind the design which can be applied in similar problems or situations. Precedent study in simple terms is procuring and contemplating exemplars that intend to offer inspiration and reinforce the justification of an idea. They can be analyzed under various categories like form, structure, composition, etc., and aid in channelizing the design ideas and concepts that can be used as inspirations. Model making in architecture is as crucial as making sketches and brainstorming. It is a physical 3D representation of either a conceptual design or a proposed building design depending on the stage of the design process. Physical models grant architects to explore the potential of their design and variable solutions. It sparks the imagination and upskills the brain to consistently think in three dimensions. An amalgamation of the two is Architectural

    Model Precedent Study that allows you to identify how it is constructed and its significant formal and spatial characteristics. Different precedents will offer different solutions and experiences. For example, a precedent that demonstrates a sophisticated structural system, may not necessarily be the same precedent that you use to exemplify a well-made model or a coherent architectural composition. Some of the architectural models may enable you to demonstrate several precedent practices, while other models will only enable you to demonstrate one. Thus, this paper aims at studying the supplied photography-based exemplar/precedents and designing a creative learning method for International Students at UniSA.

  2. UNDERSTANDING THE PROCESS OF RESEARCH The research commenced by identifying models to be

    documented, this is done within the parameters of variable outcomes that can be achieved after analyzing them. Further, these models are photo-documented and analyzed in a matrix to draw observations and conclusions a design a catalog. To reinforce these observations before concluding the inference, a google form is circulated amongst international students to understand their approach towards model making and whether they agree that there is a gap in the understanding of model making technique and process at UniSA as compared to their respective colleges where they completed their bachelors. Moreover, a focus group is identified which included students, professionals, and academicians from UniSA who shared their perspectives to corroborate the analysis towards documentation.

    Finally, the observations and catalog of the documented models are compiled. Referring to this documentation a short course is designed in a hybrid medium which will aid all the future students in understanding the expectations and the level of out-put essential in model-making to fill the gap before commencing their Masters at UniSA.

    Fig. 1. Documented models

    1. Selecting and Photo-Documenting Models

      A range of models of varying parameters like compositional techniques, construction method, material choice, etc. is selected. Interpretation of design in a unique and self-identifying form is the primary intention of shortlisting any particular model. From the model museum having over 100 models, 41 models are identified under the guidance of Dr. Chris Brisbin and Dr. Katica Pedesic. Few categories considered during the identification are-

      • Structural systems such as frame (timber or steel) and skin system, or a load-bearing masonry system.

      • Model as an example of model making including material choice, use of topography, use of trees and landscape

      • Compositional approach, and a few more

      Further, to create the final photo-documented catalog which can be analyzed, the following steps are undertaken

      1. Photo-Documenting – All the shortlisted models were carried to the pre-booked photo studio using a trolley that protected the models from destruction. A 35mm DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera with automatic and manual controls (focus, aperture, and shutter speed as a minimum) with a minimum 8-megapixel sensor that allows for lenses to be changed borrowed from the photography department is used for photography. The photo studio was arranged with a white backdrop, indirect natural light, and in- studio flashlight and reflectors to capture clear and smooth photographs as poor quality of photos can mislead in context to the actual quality of the model and scale. Set position photographs of each model are taken as follows-

        1. Aerial photo from roughly directly above like a


        2. Four photos of roughly each elevation

        3. Four photos were taken looking down on the model from each corner elevated roughly at 45o.

      2. Editing Photographs are further sorted and 9 photographs per model are finalized for edit. Using a copy of Adobe Photoshop CC accompanying free plug-in Adobe Camera Raw which is accessible for free through the student portal of the university the photographs are edited. Any color correction, healing of areas where the models were damaged, etc is done at this stage of the process. These photographs are further aligned with a uniform page size, image size, margins, and layout.

      3. Creating a Catalogue – A catalog is a book or magazine that contains information and images about various items or models. A catalog of the photographs is created in web and print form for analysis and as a reference for future students. It is segregated under three categories subject to their scale for better understanding ad comparative analysis namely,

      1. Small – All the models under this category are handy and easy to carry, the scale for these models ranges approximately 1:2000 and above

      2. Medium – Models under this category are neither small nor big and are handy. The scale for these models ranges approximately between 1:500 1:2000

      3. Big – Models under this category are big and not all of them are easy to carry and maintain. The scale for these models is moreover > than 1:500.

      Fig. 2. Examples of all three categories small, medium and big

      (starting from left)

    2. Designing a google form for students

      To reinforce the observations drawn from the documentation done it is necessary to take opinions from International students currently pursuing MArch from UniSA. A survey form is designed with questions that help to understand their perspective and learn their opinions. Google form is used to design the survey as it has easy to use interface, is free, and organizes a lot of things including automated analytic results for your form. 11 questions take 5 minutes which include multiple-choice questions and a short answer. The form includes questions like-

      • In your opinion is it necessary to support your design with a physical model?

      • On what criteria do you decide the scale of your model?

      • Has it been difficult to cope up with the model making at UniSA? and a few more

        A link to this form was mailed to the identified focus group and other international students.

    3. Conducting focus group discussions

    A focus group is a qualitative research method that involves conducting a group interview with participants who have similar backgrounds, demographic characteristics, or both. Twelve International students and three academicians are identified as the focus group. Two sessions conducted of one hour each are documented that highlight what each participant perceives of the Architectural model precedent study. Discussion pivoted around the gaps international students feel and ways in which it can be filled. The documented catalog is presented and discussed within the group.


    During bachelor parties, I've seen architectural models presented very casually. The majority of the models delivered are handcrafted, with little material experimentation or ideation. Techniques, material selection, and scale selection are all monotonous and unchanging. Every institute or organization has its way of working and expects a different level of work from students. Overall, the process of photo documentation and survey has drawn observations that conclude with designing an elective for the students. Here are a few parameters on which the comparative study is done and observations are drawn using a graphical matrix-

    1. Architecture Model- Functions

      It is critical that the design is communicated correctly because the architect knows how their design will look, but the client or moderator must understand and visualize it within

      a certain time frame. As a result, an architectural model serves as an excellent communication tool and plays an important role in the sales process of any proposed construction project. An architectural model's primary function is to communicate the concept to the client or investors. When you create a simple working model, it aids in rethinking, making changes, and sparking new ideas.

    2. Architecture Model- Types

      Models are classified according to their function, the technology used to create them, the materials used, and the period they represent. The presentation models seen in the documentation models are the types of models that students create to use as a support to explain our design ideas. If project-specific viewpoints are required, they can be detailed out to show the building façade or other designed elements of the project. A good quality landscape and the use of colors can enhance the look of the model and make it easier to communicate. The majority of these models are created to communicate the overall design, with a few exceptions that are function, construction detail, or façade oriented.

    3. Architecture Model- Material and Scale

    Major elements of model making are the selection of material, the appearance, and then the durability of it. The material of most of the models documented is acrylic sheets, medium-density fibreboard (MDF), Cardboard, Plaster of Paris (PoP). Acrylic sheets are very light in weight and are flexible with a better finish. In most of the models, it can be used to show windows or glass facades. Acrylic sheets used are laser cut and then engraved if required in a few models. The majority of these models are made using MDF, which is thick cardboard, easy to work with, durable, and heavy. The laser cutting technique is used broadly to get the basic elements of the model ready to assemble. Some are made using cardboard and are mostly small kiosks or pavilion models which are easy to make just by hand cutting. There are PoP cast models which are a new technique to explore as an international student who had never made any in PoP. The range of scale used is vast and identified by the purpose of the model and scale of the project. Urban models are smaller so that more information is delivered and small details or the construction models documented are bigger to highlight the details and focus on them with clarity. These are major classifications that can be drawn after analyzing the document model catalog.

    techniques can give hands-on experience in making models and accelerate the thinking and working during the semester. Workshops on the other hand can also be of help where the same deliverables and be done within a shorter span and escalate the same work process. To conclude, there is not a major gap of skills though there is a difference in presentation skills and interpretation of various things that can be easily filled. Even though there is 3d modeling software that helps in creating a virtual model of the design, the use of architectural models is yet at its peak and will continue to develop as new technologies dive in.


    I wish to extend special thanks to the University of South Australia for allowing me to access the model museum and document models in the photography studio for my research. Dr. Chris Brisbin and Dr. Katica Pedesic extended their helping hand in the process of identifying models for documentation. I also appreciate the students who permitted me to document and analyze their models. Thanks to my peers and faculty members who voluntarily participated in the focus group discussions and filled out the survey forms.


    1. Software Resources, Library, University of South Australia.

    2. RJ Models, accessed on 05/06/2020.

    3. s_panels.html


    5. Fig. 1- Few Documented models from the final list of 41 models selected.

    6. Fig. 2- Examples of Models of all three categories – small, medium, and big


The majority of the students believe that an architectural model is essential to communicate their design. Some students responded that the scale of their model depends on the time they have in hand which is not the correct method. The matrix was created to assess and categorize the precedent models into similar categories and properties which makes it easy for analyzing. A document that can deliver all the previously done models as photo catalog and writing can assist the international students in understanding the expectations from their course. An elective that delivers various skills and

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