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Ditching Digital: The Building Of Physical Miniatures

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Instructional Innovations in AEC Education

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

13.445.1 - 13.445.9



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Paper Authors

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David Cowan Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Ditching Digital: The Building of Physical Miniatures Abstract

Scaled models are often used by architects and engineers to study the structural behavior of buildings or the reaction of buildings subject to natural forces such as wind or fire. Currently these models tend to be created through the use of sophisticated 3D software to acquire the accuracy that is demanded in engineering computations. Similarly, computer generated 3D models are also often used to study architectural concepts and the interplay of color, form and light: the standard tools of every architect.

This study into architectural technical education looks at the use of scaled physical miniatures (hand built models) to study the relationships between buildings systems and interior architecture. Through the use of survey methodology, it explores questions about the value of scaled miniatures primarily in comparison to their popular, computer generated partners. More specifically, this study assesses student perception of their value and also examines the usefulness of scaled miniatures upon the learning of craftsmanship, selection of materials, presentation techniques and the correct juxtaposition of building elements within building assemblies that are required to house interior building systems.

This proof of concept study is set within the context of an undergraduate course and the limited amount of literature on this specific topic. It examines and assesses student responses to the survey and projects the results into a setting for more rigorous, future research within this topical subject area.


It is quite common in the context of today’s architectural education to witness students studying computer models of their design projects to analyze items such as proportion, solar gain, daylighting and structural failures. The use of these models and modeling tools is prevalent, as the computer performs these tasks well and accurately and does so in a rapid manner that a student laden with numerous deadlines can appreciate.

This paper questions the value of models that are not computer generated but, instead, are hand-built constructions. In the wake of the overload of computer imagery is there still value in creating scaled miniatures of design projects? Do students perceive that non-computer generated models have some value in their education when they are immersed in an electronic design environment? What value do these models really hold? What do they learn the most in working on

Cowan, D. (2008, June), Ditching Digital: The Building Of Physical Miniatures Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3461

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