How to Build a Model of the Santa Barbara Mission

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Santa Barbara Mission is one of the chain of missions dotting the coast of California and is perhaps one of the most scenic missions in California. Often, schools in California (as well as other places) require students to build their own model of the Santa Barbara Mission. Though this may seem like a daunting task, with a little research and some building materials, you, too, can make a model of the Santa Barbara Mission.

The Mission

Research the mission. Either visit the Old Santa Barbara Mission in person, or view its website and the Santa Barbara city's virtual tour of the mission (see resources below) to get an accurate idea of what the mission looks like prior to constructing it.

Plan your construction. You can choose either three- or two-dimensional representations of the Mission. 3-D will take longer and will include more details such as the layout of the chapel, the arcades, the courtyard and other outbuildings of the Mission. 2-D missions are also acceptable to most teachers and allow the student to get creative in representing the mission and can offer the student a chance to partner their model with a short report or other facts about the mission.

Lay the mission's foundation. Both 2-D and 3-D missions are often laid upon a cardboard foundation. Be sure that the cardboard is rigid enough to support the weight of the mission when it is carried. Both 2-D and 3-D missions will also be glued to the cardboard, so be sure it is free of dust and tape which may affect the ability of the glue to adhere to it.

Construct the mission. 3-D models will need to have walls put up first; it may be desirable to sketch out the layout of the mission prior to laying the walls. Also, measure the walls twice before cutting to ensure you have the correct dimensions and shapes.

2-D models should still have some portion of the layout sketched as well as the parts of the mission measured before gluing them to the cardboard. Unlike 3-D models, 2-D missions will be layered upon the cardboard and upon one another, so more glue may be necessary to prevent the model from slipping or coming loose.

Put a roof on the mission. For both 2-D and 3-D missions, the roof can be a sticking point; replicating the tile roof is often difficult. With a separate piece of corrugated cardboard, remove the smooth paper layer from one side, revealing the "wavy" interior. Painting this a terra-cotta red (red with some white mixed in) is a good way to capture the mission's roof. Lay (or glue) the roof on last, no matter what format you are using.

Decorate the mission. Painting and placing the accents of the mission should happen last. The mission's bells, people, statues and plants are part of what makes the ission so beautiful; place these only when you are happy with the design and construction of the mission. Also, you can get creative with your use of materials at this point; instead of using store-bought miniatures, consider using Lego people, gummy bears, "Flintstone" vitamins or other unconventional decorating materials. Even cardboard cut-outs add a nice, personal touch.

Things You'll Need

  • Internet connection
  • Scissors
  • Cardboard
  • Glue
  • Paints (white, red, black, blue, green)
  • Miniature people, plants and animals (optional)


  • Start early; it may seem like an easy (or overwhelming) assignment, but the earlier you get it done, the better.