Whether it is called a topographic model, a raised relief model, a terrain model, a stepped model, a site model or a landscape model the model maker who is going to build it needs to get information from you. This blog should help you understand the questions that you can help answer in order to get a quote for a model that best meets your requirements.
1) What is the purpose of the model?
A site model shows buildings and usually roads, parking lots, cars and landscaping. Landscape architecture models focus on trees, plantings, grasses, any structures, water and any unique landscape features. A topographic model shows shapes, elevations and any features of the surface like a cliff.
Telluride historic sites and ski trails model
Maybe the purpose of the model is to show a trail and key stopping points on a site. Maybe the purpose is to show property locations on a resort, a home development site or an office park. The model maker may be able to enhance the model if you share the purpose of the model.
2) Do you have drawings and if so in what format?
Sometimes clients think that a model maker can work from an illustration of a site. In fact we may be able to. If necessary we can work from hand drawn contour lines with their elevations printed on the lines. However it will take longer and cost more money to manually do this and the original illustration may not be very accurate. You may also want buildings and roads on the site and that may be hard to do accurately with an illustration.
If the site hasn't changed for a few years we may be able to find the topographic contour lines with their elevation for that site on the web. If it is a large area we sometimes use US Geological Service (USGS) maps or files.
If the topographic data can be sent as a .dwg or .dxf computer file that is the best first step. We can also produce models manually and it helps if you have a set of drawings in the scale of the model.
3) What is the scale?
Determining the maximum length, width and height of the site to be depicted along with its highest point (be it a mountain, a tree, a building or a bridge) is the starting point.
Next consider how big you would like the model to be. If you want 4 city blocks (maybe 800' long X 800' wide total) and the model is 2' X 2' then the scale is 800'/2' = 1:400 or approximately 1/32" = 1'-0". In that scale a 6' tall person is 6/32" tall or about 1/5 of an inch tall. In that scale a 40' high tree is 40/32" or 1 & 1/4" high. By comparison a HO Gauge train set scale is a ratio of 1:87. Maybe you want a bigger scale like 1/87 to get much more detail than you would at 1:400. Doll house scale is normally 1:12. Common scales for commercial buildings are 1:48, 1:100 or 1:200.
The model maker can make practical suggestions but it helps a lot if you have thought out what the scale should be to show area and the level of detail you want. If you want shutters on a house in 1:500 scale you may as well print them out on a piece of paper because that is about how thick they would be in scale. We made a 90" X 90" topographic model at a scale of 1"=5,400'. At that scale we decided to use sand grains to depict the trees and add some dimension. We painted the trees green.
4) What is the distance between the highest and the lowest elevation?
Knowing this distance helps to determine the thickness and hence the cost of the material like polyurethane foam that the terrain is cut from or in some cases the number of layers of sheets of material need to cut and stack.
5) Do you want to exaggerate the vertical scale?
Once you get to a smaller scale like 1:1200 or 1"=100' then a topgraphic model may look flatter to the human eye than it would in real life. For a 44 acre hilly site of a 36 hole golf course that was depicted in a 4' X 5' model we exaggerated the vertical scale 1.5 times to make it look more like it does in real life. For a 4' X 5' model of the mountains in Telluride, CO however, we did not exaggerate the vertical although the model scale was 1:9000. We did a cross section drawing first of the model and the terrain was so steep it would have looked way too steep to the human eye if we exaggerated the vertical.
6) Do you want a stepped or smooth topography? If stepped how high is the step?
For detailed landscape planning or for engineering purposes on the site, especially during planning or construction, it may be desirable to show the contour with steps where each elevation line is depicted as a step above or below the next one. Above is a model of 44 acres where a former waste site is being turned into a sports center that includes a 36 hole golf course. Contour lines can, if desired, be added between those on the drawings to show more steps.
A smoothed surface normally means that the model has been sanded to change the steps into a smooth realistic surface. If the architecture of a building is to be emphasized you probably should have a smoothed surface or very thin steps.
7) Do you have a landscape plan?
Maybe your landscape plan is a forest that shows the terrain with tree locations, ponds, and roads on a US Geological Survey Map. Maybe it is a formal garden drawn by an architect with specific plants and flowers. Maybe it is the layout with terrain of a golf course or ski trails.
This garden is 1:500 scale.
The topography may be interesting but the quality of the painting, the landscaping, the realism of the model trees as well as buildings and all the other surface details are what make a great topographic model standout.
On a topographic model of Telluride, CO we suggested to the client that they have us add numbered ski trails and lifts in addtion to the historic sites they had requested. We think that helped to engage many of the model viewers.
8) Do you want to add buildings, roads, rivers, waterfalls, train tracks or anything else like names added to the topography?
For one 4' X 8" topgraphic model raised railroad tracks helped to define the western border of the model and help to orient the viewer. For a 1:64,800 model of part of Maine the roads were crucial to orient the viewer. We scribed the roads into the surface to help them stand out in the model. To make the area more interesting we detailed the heaths, bogs, marches and other terrain.
The final model is often best if it is a collaborative effort between you and the model maker. Model Builders, Inc. is known for creative, economical, realistic topographic models. Take the next step by contacting us at Model Builders, Inc., 773-586-6500 or email@example.com .