“The answers are in the model shop” – Michael Eisner

Model building is an essential part of the development process for theme park and theme park attraction design. This article will discuss the first and most basic model used in the development of a theme park or theme park attraction: The mass model.

As we frequently mention on this site, theme park design is a hybrid of architectural design, show set design, storytelling, site planning, and more. This aspect of theme park design focuses on the architectural aspect of theme park development, of which model building is a large part.

The Mass Model

The mass model is used very early on in the development of a theme park. Generally, a site has been selected and a preliminary site plan has been developed. The mass model helps put depth on an otherwise two dimensional space. The mass model is the first look at the space in three dimensions. Blocks of foam are cut into simple shapes and basic masses to compose this model.

The important thing to realize about a mass model is that it is a fluid object. Like in a dance, nothing stays the same for long. Everything is changing at this point in the process. Masses get moved, pushed, pulled, mirrored, squeezed and extended. The best models must be able to modified quickly. As so, little detail is put into these models. It can be truly said that sometimes an empty can of soda will serve as an architectural mass, if appropriately sized.

As a young designer, I often made the mistake of gluing things together in a solid fashion. But after three or four changes and needing to rip the model apart again and again; I learned that mass models need be attached with minimal gluing. Literally, two parts should be held together with a single drop of glue. Many times we simply use toothpicks to skewer the foam core together, not unlike a club sandwich. The key is to get a sense of the space with very little effort.

The materials needed to construct a mass model are typically: Sheets of foam core, Elmer’s Glue, tooth picks, exacto blades, an architectural scale, and a straight edge for cutting. Many times a plotted site plan will be spray mounted to the foam core to provide a base for the model.