Computer models in architecture…

This still shot from a computer model accurately depicts how shadows will fall upon the building during a set time of day as well as day of the year. These shadows are calculated using longitudinal and latitudinal site data.

When I was a kid playing with building blocks, I used to dream of a way to somehow design a building to show people…and to analyze it before it was built.  At the ripe old age of age 6 this was a pretty lofty day dream.  Turns out that this technology has finally come to fruition.  In today’s

computer model

This still shot from a computer model accurately depicts how shadows will fall upon the building during a set time of day as well as day of the year. These shadows are calculated using longitudinal and latitudinal site data. Click the image to view the completed home.

modern world I can “build” a computer model of a building to present to the client.  I put the word build in quotes because I am not building it in the familiar way, which would be to build it in the physical realm using a hammer and nails.  I build it on the computer.  What this means is that the building literally is built, it is just in the fantasy world of computers.  It isn’t something we can touch because it only shows up on the computer monitor, but believe-you-me…it IS built.  I create every door, window, roof plane, wall, stair, etc. by pushing and pulling planes.  Once it is built the uses are amazing:


  1. I am able to rotate it
  2. Hover over it
  3. Measure…anything.  The entire model is built to scale so whether we want to measure the height of a railing or the height of the building, we can do it down to a fraction of an inch.
  4. Create a moving animation flying over/around/and through it
  5. I am able to change the camera lens that I am looking through just as I would a physical camera.  What this means in laymen’s terms is that the human eye views the world at a view angle of 160° by 75° that is equivalent to a camera lens that is 36–60mm .  My program allows me to change the field of view, meaning in a tight space I can use a wide angle lens to show more of the space.
  6. I am able to look at my client, figure out how high his/her eye level is and set the camera height to that level so when we move through spaces it would be like that person was viewing it!
  7. I am able to locate the building on the site using longitudinal and latitudinal data which will allow me to locate the project in its exact location on planet earth.  Well…so what right?  Wrong!  This allows me to perform a solar analysis.  What this means is that I will be able to graphically show what the shadows will be like on, in, and around the building at any time of day…and day of the year.  I can even create an animation that will show the shadows moving in time lapse photography.
  8. I can play with the colors very easily throughout the building
  9. I can just as easily play with the materials
  10. I can present a computer animation as a digital file that is easy to upload to YouTube, send by email, post on websites, share through social media like Facebook, etc.

This still shot taken from the same computer model as above shows a cross section of the building. This particular section is very helpful as it graphically depicts the varied levels of this custom home.

And these are just presentation uses for the computer model.  I haven’t even touched on the fact that if I really want to get into it with a very complicated building, I can actually show trusses, mechanical equipment, lighting, etc. to make sure all the systems are playing nicely together.  Basically what I am saying is that the architectural computer model’s uses are pretty much unlimited.  I thank the heavens above that this technology is available because it takes the guess work out of a project.  It also makes it so there are no surprises (I hate surprises as do clients).  When a client works with me there will never be a time when they say, “oh I didn’t know it would look like that…” because they WOULD know what it looked like because I already showed it to them on the computer model.  This to me is the most valuable aspect of the model.

Presenting the computer model is one of my favorite things (outside of walking through the finished product of course).  I love watching them stare at the screen in wide-eyed wonder as I move around their new building and they can see it graphically…they can see how it works spatially.  Most people (especially women…and I am not a sexist this is science talking here people!) cannot understand things spatially from 2-dimensional plans.  By showing people 3-dimensional  walls the “ins” and “outs” become very clear as well as the “ups” and “downs”.  This becomes especially useful if there is a multi-story space where levels overlap.  The computer model allows me to be able to cut a section through the building to reveal the inner workings of the project.  This means exactly what it sounds like…I would take an imaginary knife and  slice through the entire building…walls, roof and everything in between and then show how the building works straight through (see image above).

Just for fun click on the following picture to watch a an example of a computer animation, or click here to learn more about this 10,000 + square foot home: