I am interested in architecture and have been wanting to design a house/building and then create a model for quite some time. I just am now able to do this, but I am not sure where to start.

My current resources are Walmart, Home Depot, and Joanne's.

I want to create something that I can do in the small space of my apartment room at college. I don't have a garage to use, so any big tools would be really inconvenient, and I obviously don't have the funds for that.

I've been looking at some wood and papers used for model homes, but I'm not sure that I can find them at the places I listed above (I also don't have a car, so I have to walk with these items up to 2 miles)

So what I'm looking for are suggestions for some cheap material that I can use to create a small model home. All materials such as for the structure itself, substance to attach the pieces together, tools like X-Acto knife or something, etc.

I could think of some things myself and do it by trial and error, but I would prefer help from somebody who has made model homes themselves and knows whats best with cheap materials. And if cardboard is your suggestion, then tips on what to use to cut the cardboard with would be helpful! (Scissors suck)

2 Answers 2


Thin foam core or cardboard, card stock, and balsa or lime sticks.

All three of these things together are light weight, inexpensive, and should be available at craft stores or on the web (the balsa can be purchased on Amazon but you may find it in JoAnn's). They can all be cut simply with a sharp Xacto-type blade or scalpel. You'll likely be able to find these items at either a craft store or (possibly) an office store. I used to work at a university book store and they actually sold kits for the architecture students in the art section, so if there's a university nearby with an architecture program, see what they have on hand.

A basic guide supports these:

As far as materials are concerned, unless you have easy access to a workshop and a reasonable level of experience with machinery, it would be best to work with card or foam-board or similar, easy-to-cut materials such as Balsa or Lime wood. In other words, anything that you can cut with either a sharp blade or junior hack saw and stick together with conventional shop bought glues.

It also recommends using some other tools to help ensure your lines are perpendicular (or at the proper angle you wish) and straight.

And when you are cutting, if possible, try to use a square, especially if you are cutting out floor plates or elevations. Keeping everything square is crucial if you want to achieve a neat, crisp finish for your building. It’s also worth investing in a metal ruler as you will find a plastic or wooden ruler will get damaged very quickly.

As for how to use the knife, the importance is patience and technique. Use several shallow passes to get through the thicker foam or cardboards:

Whether you’re cutting with a craft knife or a scalpel, it's better to use several light passes rather than trying to cut all the way through with one go. You’ll get a cleaner cut and you’re less likely to slip and cut your finger.

My dad was an architect and these were the sorts of tools he used, so if they're good enough for pros, they should be good for you, too! Best of luck finding the supplies and building your dream home (scale model)! Oh, be sure to do a lot of practicing before trying to build your final house. This is a slow, careful process that takes a lot of practice, so be patient with yourself.

  • I dated an architecture student for most of the last five years, and these tools/materials are still the norm - they're very fond of laser cut card/MDF too but foamboard/mount board/clear plastic sheet are still what they teach current students to use.
    – walrus
    Sep 19, 2017 at 8:46

If you are low on budget, you can try to use materials from very different sources and not related directly to model building. For example: the milk carton is very resistant, and can be easily cut and shaped. The cardboard cylinder inside the toilet papers is very useful to make columns, so any other cylinder inside the aluminum foil or kitchen supplies alike.

Transparent plastic containers (like bottles) are great for windows in your model, and you can create a paste with toilet paper, cornmeal and water to build irregular forms. You can download from the internet paper models of the furniture, cars, trucks and different elements in your model, just google "pepakura". For example this: "pepakura cars"

That way you can have very good looking elements in your model at just the cost of a printing.

Finally, any cloth or rag properly painted can be a good artistic roof. And, well, basically just look around and look for hidden materials in all the things you already have (soda cans, can lids, cardboard boxes, food containers, etc...)

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