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Last edited 23 Jun 2022
Types of building models
There are a number of different types, formats and examples of building models, in some cases purely digitised versions of their physical equivalent in other cases models that serve very different purposes. There are numerous ways to categorise and assess these - here the approach taken is to look at physical, digital models and other models such as data or process models which may be increasingly relevant to design and construction projects.
Whilst the role of physical models has dramatically diminished since the growth of digital modelling, physical models can still play a role in the design and construction of buildings because they might be considered more accessible than digital models, for example in the case of local planning consultations or in explaining scheme to clients. Listed here are the wide variety of physical models that might be relevant or used within the process of design and construction, the list is not exhaustive.
Topographical models allow designers to study site conditions in the area, giving a feel for the lie of the land, designing buildings or structures that best suit. These help understand changes in elevation, steepness of slopes, and potential problems relating to the practically of building or excavations. Relevant scales: 1:500 to 1:10,000 for huge sites.
Urban planning models focus on the physical form or the urban area or the urban fabric. They might be shared community models located in town halls that will be updated as development occurs. In some cases they may be accompanied by underlying data such as the planning designations, economic functions, or social impacts and activities within the urban environment.
Urban design models are similar to urban planing models but normally show a smaller area for example around a particular site being developed to give an indication of relationships between buildings and open spaces.
A massing model again is similar to an urban design model but focusses purely on the size and shape of a proposed building and the buildings surrounding it. It helps to investigate, overshadowing and planning impacts.
A conceptual model can vary vastly in how it relates to the physical design of a building. It is an early stage model that aims to give the inspiration or express the initial artistic ideas behind a scheme.
A structural model or framing model focuses on the structural engineering of a project by modelling the key structural elements. These models help to understand the structural grid of a scheme and to assess the engineering calculations required.
A site model gives very similar information to that of a topographical or urban design model, with a focus on the site itself, and its context. They are a fundamental tools for designers not only in understanding a scheme but also in communicating the reasoning behind the final design. Various scale might be used but 1:500 or 1:200 might be used for single-building sites or 1:1,000 for multiple buildings.
Building scale models are a key element of design projects as they show the detail of a scheme and massing in one model, they may also show a small part of the surrounding site also but not always. These models not only help understand height, size, and proportions but may also act as communication tools for clients, occupants and local stakeholders. A building model might also help market and in som cases help raise funds for a building. 1:100 is a common scale for this type of building but scales used will range from 1:50, 1:100, to 1:200, with perhaps 1:500 for large complexes and tall buildings.
Cross-sectional models can be useful tools to show not only the massing and exterior of a building but also to give an indication of the interior spaces. They typically take the optimal cross-section through parts of the building that reveal the most elements in the design and illustrate the relationship between the various spaces within it. These models may also be used to model part of a building such as an atrium space.
Architectural detail models are likely to be a larger scales such as 1:20, 1:10 or 1:5. These are often used for very specific features of buildings that may be particularly important, complex or involve certain trades to illustrate particular requirements.
Construction detail models, very similar to architectural models are likely to be a larger scales such as 1:20, 1:10 or 1:5. and are used to explain very specific features of buildings that may be particularly important or complex from a construction perspective.
A material board (or mood board) is not a model as such but a form of representation used in the design and construction of buildings. It is also a methodology that has increased in use rather than diminished, partly as a result of the digitisation of design. It is a sample board that displays the palette or collection of key materials( normally at 1:1 scale) that are proposed for a project. It may be requested for detailed planning applications, particularly in conservation areas or listed buildings as it gives planners, as well as designers the opportunity to see the quality and texture of actual materials.
The term 'digital' can be defined as; 'A branch of engineering knowledge and practice that deals with the creation and practical use of data or computerised devices, methods, systems and processes'. Ref The Gemini Principles. Centre for Digital Built Britain. December 2018.
Building Information Modelling (BIM) is a very broad term that describes the process of creating and managing digital information about a built asset such as a building, bridge, highway or tunnel. ISO 19650:2019 defines BIM as: Use of a shared digital representation of a built asset to facilitate design, construction and operation processes to form a reliable basis for decisions.
Digital Terrain Models (DTM) or Digital Elevation Models (DEM) are topographic models of bare earth terrain (vegetation, buildings and other features removed) that can be digitally manipulated. The data files contain the elevation data of the terrain in a digital format which relates to a rectangular grid. DTM's are used especially in civil engineering, geodesy and surveying, geophysics, geography and remote sensing. These models are normally in the form of a digital mesh model.
Semantic 3D city models at the lowest level of detail (LOD) are block models, these show buildings as single ( and digitally separate) blocks to show location and urban context. These simple block models can be enhanced with some images of surface textures pasted to the flat sides such as might be found on google earth city models. Semantic models with a higher LOD will also show further details such as chimneys, roof structures etc.
3D mesh models are generated using photogrammetry techniques and can be produced with highly realistic visual quality and accuracy. These models usually include all objects present in a scene, but unlike semantic block models the individual objects are not separate entities but all part of one continuous mesh.
Geometric modelling is the process of capturing the properties of an object or a system using mathematical formulae - a computer compatible mathematical description of the geometry of an object. This may also be referred to as a 3D CAD model, as it is a static representation.
Parametric modelling (or parametric design) is the creation of a digital model based on a series of pre-programmed rules or algorithms known as 'parameters'. That is, the model, or elements of it are generated automatically by internal logic arguments rather than by being manually manipulated.
 Dynamic simulation model DSM
A dynamic simulation model, sometimes referred to as integrated environmental modelling can be used to model and analyse a range of different factors that effect the performance of a building. It incorporates a number of different themes that may also be modelled separately such as dynamic thermal modelling looking at temperatures and over heating analysis or energy performance modelling which looks at the energy requirements and consumption of a building.
 Building performance simulation model
Carbon models have increasing interest in the industry due to the greater focus on the embodied carbon in materials alongside the carbon associated with the operation of a building. These models do not necessarily show any visual representation of a building (although this might be an integrated element such as a plug in for BIM) but use the material quantities and specifications to calculate the embodied carbon of a building along with the estimated energy in use, converted with a carbon factor to give an overall whole life carbon cost for the building. This may also be referred to as a whole life building model.
Climate models are increasingly relevant to the design of buildings as a result of increasing peak summer temperatures and the issues surrounding overheating. They are normally used as climate reference points (DSY's and TRY's) when building performance is modelled using dynamic simulation models or dynamic thermal models. The introduction of approved document part O in 2022, that covers the subject of overheating, with the option of a simplified method or dynamic modelling method is likely to increase the use of climate models as reference points for the performance of buildings under different scenarios.
Having a clear understanding of the whole life costs and risks of delivering a project or programme can be achieved by producing a Should Cost Model (SCM). A SCM provides a forecast of what a project or programme ‘should’ cost over its whole life, including both the build phase and the expected design life.
- 3D city model
- A vision for digital highways.
- Building drawing software.
- Building engineering services.
- Construction Operations Building Information Exchange (COBie).
- CIC BIM Protocol.
- Collaborative practices.
- Common data environment.
- Collaborative practices for building design and construction.
- Computer aided design CAD.
- Digital model.
- Digital twin.
- Digital engineering.
- Digital information.
- Future climate modelling.
- Generative design.
- ISO/TC 211 Geographic information/Geomatics.
- Level of detail.
- Model-based design.
- Models in the construction industry.
- Parametric modelling.
- Types of building models.
- Virtual construction model.
- Whole Life Asset Performance.
- Shaping Space - Architectural Models Revealed.
- Soft landings.
- Real time.
- Residential design and 3D rendering.
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