Iterations ran from August through December 2020 at the Center for Architecture and Design in Seattle, WA. The online portion of the exhibit remains live until the 24th Annual Model Exhibit website, Breathe, goes live in August 2021.


Traditionally, architecture is presented as a finished product, exact in its completion. However, each project is a body of work with a life of its own, changing over time and affecting the surrounding context in unexpected ways. “Finished” architectural projects are only the final outcome of a long process of design studies, client requests, city reviews, and public comment- and even this “final” product is only a snapshot in time, reflecting the moment when a design process gives way to urban evolution. Architectural design is never a straightforward process, but rather one governed by dynamic, collaborative, ideation.

Iterations celebrates the germination of a design idea and how it's nurtured over time through the exploration of writing, drawing, modeling and material studies. These studies serve a myriad of functions, whether they depict the architectural elements employed, represent the building in its site, or serve to test a custom detail or connection. Iterations examines the dynamics of the design process, demonstrates the path to a final concept, and illustrates the influence a completed project has on the continuing evolution of the built environment.

Block 21

Block 38 Design through Making

The Casita

Cloud Tower


The act of building a model is a statement of intent, the depiction of an idea. Built at a fraction of the size of the building or landscape being represented, the shift to a smaller scale inevitably means some detail will be lost. It falls upon the model maker to decide what information to include. Every choice about material, color, level of detail, precision of construction, etc., is motivated by purpose. Will the model be used to demonstrate how one wall connects to the next? Or to show a building in its surroundings? Is the model purely functional, designed to assess potential failures due to seismic events, or to determine wind pressure differentials across a building’s face? These considerations influence the type of model a designer makes.

Cut-away models can provide impossible views – and show how systems connect in ways that would be unclear in a completed building. One-to-one mockups can be used to test different assemblies and to reveal the true shape and size of a detail. Models can be used to convince city review boards to approve projects or to entice condo shoppers to buy. Older models can serve as a record of design changes, a way of documenting the iterative evolution of the design. As you review this exhibit, consider the intention behind each model, what the designer hoped to learn through the process of construction, or in reviewing the model with their fellow designers, clients, or the local community.

Duwamish Crossing

Fairview Mixed-Use

Head to the Skies

House of Land and Sea


Each viewer of a model, or visitor to a building or urban space, will have a unique relationship to that project. Architecture is built at the behest of a client. While individuals, cooperatives, non-profits, corporations or government entities may have a great deal of financial control over the project, the final product will have reach far beyond its initial intention. It does not exist in a vacuum. Whether in a dense downtown core or in remote rural areas, a building exists in context and will have an impact on many people far beyond the client or the architects. Residents of a neighborhood may chafe at proposals that threaten to change the nature of their community. Office workers may have access to private floors in a tower, whereas the general public may only visit restaurants and shops at the ground floor. Airports and hospitals often have separate circulation systems for security or health reasons. Separation between service and served spaces may highlight and exacerbate society’s inequalities. How can the models in this exhibit be received in relation to the different audiences or constituencies that will be affected when the building is complete?


Mortise & Tennon

Railway Roundhouse Gallery

Peak Tweaks


The design process is rarely straightforward. During initial phases, designers may test dozens or even hundreds of options before narrowing down to a single concept. On occasion, designers will backtrack and re-evaluate designs they previously discarded. This back-and-forth is an iterative approach. This may seem inefficient and impractical, but some of the greatest innovations are the result of serendipitous discoveries; a product of approaching a problem from multiple angles. The method of ‘testing to failure’ allows designers to mock up key details of the design and test their weak points or (conceptually) to see how far they can push an idea until it breaks. Design is a collaborative and evolutionary process, and each individual brings a different perspective to the project. By investigating these perspectives, a team can arrive at a carefully crafted solution informed by many viewpoints. As a project is constructed, opportunities for big conceptual changes diminish, but the design process does not conclude until the building is complete. No model or document can completely describe a full-size building, so decisions must be made throughout the construction process; each offering an opportunity for refinement. How do the models in this exhibit demonstrate an iterative design process?

Seattle Aquarium's Ocean Pavilion

Steep Slope Living

Vortex Shedding


2023 Uber Skyport Mobility Hub

Our personal and public spaces are in a state of flux and iteration. What’s one thing that’s changed in your neighborhood since the onset of COVID-19?

Show us on Instagram @SeaArchitecture #SAFIterations

DID: Iterations Panel Discussion


Jack Chaffin, Johnston Architects Scott Crawford, LMN Architects

Julia Nagele, Hewitt


Evan Chakroff, Graphite Design

Thank you to our sponsors who make exhibits like this possible!

Platinum Sponsors:

Gold Sponsor: AHT Insurance


Contact to get more information on the exhibit