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Building a Scale Model City

Sim City 2000 is a wonderful tool for creating a realistic simulation of how a city grows, but it is a world that only exists on the computer screen. At the Erving Elementary School, we believe that our students also need to create real artifacts in the three dimensional world they live in. The creative use of our computers and software like Apple Works can help with the job.

Real skyscrapers are fascinating components of modern cities and the students are very interested in their construction. After a period of study, we have each student design and build their own scale model of a skyscraper. Before they are allowed to construct a building, they must obtain a building permit. Permits are issued to students who have submitted a number of preliminary drawings of skyscrapers they have studied, a final building design and list of specifications for the structure they are about to build.

The scale that we like to use is one inch = 10 feet. Models built to this scale are quite large, but so are real skyscrapers! An extra benefit when you use this scale is the fact that matchbox cars can be used around the buildings to add extra realism and atmosphere. All models are built to the same scale so that they can be combined into a scale model of a city.

The models are constructed using thin pieces of wood, cardboard, paper and glue. It takes several days and large quantities of building materials to construct skyscrapers this size! Do not attempt to make these buildings unless:

  • You are willing to devote lots of class time to the project.
  • You have access to many large pieces of cardboard.
  • You are handy with basic cutting tools, staplers and glue guns.
  • You can tolerate a messy classroom for days on end.
  • You have lots of personal energy.

Are you ready for this?

If you do not think you will be able to construct the large scale models, you may want to try the same project using a different scale. For instance, using a scale of 1 centimeter = 10 feet will dramatically shrink the overall size of the models. You could also limit the height of the buildings to under 30 stories. We like to tell our kids that they can't make a building taller than they are!

The skin of each model skyscraper is created in the draw module of Apple Works. Using Apple Works, the students are able to experiment with an unlimited number of possible designs and gray scale combinations.

Sample Skin:

Other Sample Skins
Skin One
Skin Two
Skin Three
Skin Four
Skin Five
Skin Six

This is a great activity for the students to learn the methodology and benefits of basic computer skills like cutting, pasting, copying, and grouping objects. The computer takes over the thankless job of creating hundreds of windows or thousands of marble blocks. Once the skin of the skyscraper has been finalized, enough photocopies of the skin are made to cover the entire building. Students need to cut out each sheet precisely.

The precise outlines of the skyscrapers are drawn on large pieces of cardboard and the 8 by 11 inch skin panels are glued to the cardboard.

Once the glue dries, the outline of the wall sections are cut out and the building is assembled.

We use long square rods of wood in the inside corners of the models held together with hot glue and staples. A basic roof is done in cardboard with a black construction paper top, but swimming pools and garden roofs are not uncommon. The entire model is glued to a cardboard base. A few final touches are added and the building is complete!

Other Sample Buildings
Sample One
Sample Two
Sample Three
Sample Four
Sample Five
Sample Six

The final products are impressive structures and the students are quite proud of their work. There is a strong sense of accomplishment that comes from producing a beautiful scale model of a building that you have designed, especially when the model is almost as tall as you are! Our fifth and sixth graders spend many hours creating stories and writing newspaper articles about the imaginary residents of their buildings. They also write "state of the city" speeches as the mayor of their metropolis. The entire experience helps to bring life to our study of cities.

Comments to Michael Lipinski - Web Editor
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