Why should we (still) make Physical Models? Ft. Sophie and Max from Atomik Architecture

The Enduring Craft of Physical Models in Architecture: Insights from Sophie McCarthy and Max Fraser of Atomik Architecture


In a digital age where virtual reality and 3D rendering technologies are at the forefront of architectural design, the craft of making physical models remains a fundamental aspect of the creative process. This sentiment was vividly echoed in a recent discussion with Sophie McCarthy and Max Fraser of Atomik Architecture, a London-based firm known for its innovative approach to design and architecture. The conversation, rich with insights and experiences, highlighted the irreplaceable value of physical models in architecture, even as we navigate through 2024.

Atomik Architecture: A Blend of Design and Delivery

Atomik Architecture stands out for its non-specialist, specialist approach, embracing a wide range of projects from education and high-rise residential buildings to cultural installations and heritage buildings. The practice prides itself on integrating design and delivery, ensuring that projects are not only visually appealing but also technically feasible. This ethos is evident in their work, such as the Thor Lodge extension for Holland Park School and the Antigua and Barbuda Youth Symphony Orchestra’s new headquarters.

The Case for Physical Models

Sophie and Max emphasized the indispensable role of physical models in the architectural process. These models serve not just as final presentations but as tools for exploration, collaboration, and communication throughout the design journey. They allow for a tactile engagement with the project, offering insights that digital models cannot replicate. The ability to physically manipulate models enables architects, clients, and contractors to understand spatial relationships, materiality, and structural details more intuitively.

Models as Collaborative Tools

Atomik Architecture’s use of physical models fosters a collaborative environment where ideas can be shared and developed collectively. This approach is particularly effective in engaging clients and stakeholders who may not be adept at reading architectural drawings. Models become a universal language, breaking down barriers and facilitating a deeper understanding of the project.

Bridging Design and Technical Realities

The conversation also touched on the importance of integrating design aspirations with technical realities. Physical models play a crucial role in this aspect, allowing architects to experiment with materials, explore structural solutions, and refine details. Atomik Architecture’s diverse portfolio showcases how models are employed to resolve complex design challenges, from intricate facade systems to adaptive reuse of heritage buildings.

Physical Models in the Digital Era

Despite the advancements in digital technologies, Sophie and Max advocate for the continued use of physical models in architectural education and practice. They argue that models encourage a hands-on approach to design, fostering creativity and innovation. Additionally, models can convey the essence of a project in ways that digital renderings cannot, providing a tangible connection to the physical world.


The insights from Sophie McCarthy and Max Fraser of Atomik Architecture reaffirm the significance of physical models in the architectural process. As we advance technologically, the value of these models lies not just in their aesthetic appeal but in their ability to facilitate understanding, collaboration, and innovation. Physical models, with their ability to connect the abstract with the tangible, remain an essential tool in the architect’s arsenal, bridging the gap between digital precision and human experience.

For those inspired by the craft of model making and the innovative work of Atomik Architecture, further exploration of their projects and approach can be found at www.atomikarchitecture.com. The practice’s dedication to blending design and technical excellence, coupled with their commitment to hands-on exploration, positions them as a beacon for aspiring architects and seasoned professionals alike, reminding us of the enduring power of physical models in shaping our built environment.