Representation | Model Making

This is the penultimate blog post in this series titled Representation and culminates in the documentation of a physical model I have made in the workshop at The University of Greenwich. I chose to develop a model rather than the alternative options of an animation or three renders. This is because I enjoy the opportunity to work away from a computer screen and I wanted to work with different materials to better understand the tidal flows of the river Thames – a variable in my studio design project.

Photographs of the Final Model can be seen in this post.


My main priority when looking for precedent models was to find a suitable method of representing moving water, however this presented a challenge. Most models were pristine and static or ‘messy’ with motion i.e. the materials and viewer were going to have to get wet.

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Draft Sketches

I decided to combine the topographic approach of Cary Foster with the sense of wave movement achieved by Norman Diaz, rejecting – for the purpose of a 3-week project – the inclusion of actual water. I did purchase hydrogel (which LCLA office used to ‘flood’ their work, by heating with a lamp from underneath) and will test the suitability of this later in my studio design project.

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Process – six components

Site: Impounding Station, Isle of Dogs; River Thames

Scale: 1:1000

Topographic base

  • As the twice-daily rise and fall of the Thames inform my design project, I wanted a section of the river to be the main focus of the physical model and therefore modelled this digitally in Rhino.
  • In reality, the Thames and the Isle of Dogs (my studio brief) is a relatively flat area, with heights varying from -5m to +5m yet the river spanning 550m in width at this point. I exaggerated the topography of the river bed by x10 fold to create visible yet still proportionately accurate variation at a model scale of 1:1000.
  • Sourcing of timber was the next challenge, as I wanted a hardwood with attractive grain yet with a depth of 90+mm (length 600mm x width 200mm). I had a piece of London Plane cut to size by specialist timber merchant City Wood based in Bromley-by-Bow.

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  • The 3D .stl file and timber were then supplied to the workshop to be cut on the CNC machine (computer numerical control). The timber had a minimum +10mm excess on the three ‘exposed’ edges. Waiting to access the machine has been the biggest challenge due to long queue times.
  • Other key elements of the .stl file include 9 slots – where the CNC machine cut through the timber entirely – and grooves to hold my proposal and any existing buildings (which would be created using 3D printing).
  • To finish the topography, I sanded any rough edges and added an oil to the wood to enhance the grain.

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Moveable Handle

  • As per my original sketches, I wanted to create a handle mechanic – also from wood – that could be manually moved back and forth at a 90-degree angle to the topography to mimic the tide. I modelled this in Rhino to plan the construction and dimensions.
  • This was cut from the same London Plane sourced from City Wood. The 480mm top section and small end pieces (30mm x2) I cut by hand on the Band Saw, including the diagonal edges. The larger 860mm bottom section was cut on the Circular Saw, which was a lot more accurate and produced a better end result.
  • Using an AutoCAD file edited in Adobe Illustrator, I transferred an image of the Thames on to the 480mm section. This was achieved using the Laser Cutter and the raster engraving option.
  • I created two finger grooves on each end piece by using the Pillar Drill on a double length piece of wood (60mm) and then cutting this in half, again on the Band Saw, to create two identical pieces of 30mm in length.
  • The four separate wooden pieces were then glued together with wood glue, clamped and left to dry overnight.
  • To finish the handle, I sanded any rough edges and added an oil to the wood to enhance the grain and match the topography.

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Moveable Tide

  • As a variation on the design by Diaz, I wanted to incorporate nine unfixed sheets of acrylic that could move up and down inside the topography. By placing them on the wooden handle and then sliding this back and forth, the model would attempt to represent the rise and fall of the tide.
  • Again, I modeled the concept in Rhino but then created the final files in AutoCAD before editing in Adobe Illustrator. I sourced 5mm gloss white acrylic and cut the 9 ‘tidal waves’ on the Laser Cutter using vector cutting only.


  • As per the above component, I modelled the concept in Rhino, prepared file in AutoCAD and edited line weights and colour in Adobe Illustrator. I imported text from an Adobe InDesign file.
  • The base has been Laser Cut on transparent light grey 3mm acrylic using both vector cutting and vector engraving. The engraved text represents quarterly tide times and heights from 2017.
  • I added a finger joint to the edges of the base primarily to give the structure additional strength, as I was concerned that the acrylic might struggle to hold the weight of the timber topography if it was flimsy in any way. It has also been glued.

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Design Proposal

  • The design proposal of my site have been modeled in Rhino and then supplied as an .stl file to be printed on the Formlabs 3D Printer in grey resin. The Form 1+ is a desktop 3D printer that ‘prints’ onto a liquid resin, solidifying each layer of the model with an ultraviolet laser.
  • The model was printed with a support structure that held the model together during the printing process. I removed this with a scalpel.


  • The existing buildings of my site have been modeled in Rhino and then supplied as an .stl file to be printed on the Ultimaker 2+ 3D Printer in white plastic.
  • The Ultimaker creates tough, solid ABS/PLA plastic models ‘toothpaste style’ by printing each layer with a melted plastic, known as FDM (fused deposition modeling) printing.

Final Model

Photographs of the Final Model can be seen in this post.


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