Let’s Get Physical: A Gehry Partners Approach to Physical Architecture Modelling

The design process at Gehry Partners is deeply rooted in physical model-making. Frank Gehry, a well known American architect, established his practice in 1962 in Los Angeles, California. In 2001 Gehry Partners was formed, and today has a staff of over 140 people.

During the design process at Gehry Partners many models are made, in conjunction with drawings and 3D digital modeling, to give the architects a tactile representation of massing, form, and expression, and allow spatial relationships to be investigated. The models are made in-house by a dedicated modeling team. Their model-making process occasionally involves using a laser cutter, and rarely incorporates 3D printing.

This design exploration of model-making is continued until a design is finalized, as opposed to developing a model once the design has first been finished on paper. The physical models are crucial to the Gehry Partners design process and are also used in client presentations to effectively represent their intentions.

Gehry Partners mixes tried-and-true, analogue architecture processes with high-tech 3D modeling. The team uses Rhino in preliminary design process, then exports to a program called CATIA (a program developed for aerospace and shipbuilding) that readies the information for fabrication and construction processes.

This mix of technologies, with an emphasis on physical models, has led to a workflow that produces some of the most interesting architectural designs.


Frank Ghery and Mark Zuckerberg discussing Facebook campus model. (Everett Katigbak, Facebook)



Facebook campus model (Frank Ghery/Ghery Partners)


Louis Vuitton Foundation for Creation model


Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health model (Frank Gehry)



Residential development model (Swire Properties)


Hong Kong museum complex model (Swire Properties)


Hotel at Marques de Riscal winery model detail (Swire Properties)

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