Chicago Model City Built with 3D Printers

by Matt Ball on June 8, 2009


The Chicago Model City exhibit opens this Thursday in the lobby of 224 S. Michigan. This exhibition is the culmination of a nine-year effort by The Chicago Architecture Foundation to build a large-scale 3D model to commemorate the centennial of the 1909 Plan of Chicago. The scale model (1″ = 50 feet) of Chicago’s Loop is accompanied by supporting media that seeks to analyze the impact of planning decisions that have shaped the city. The exhibit also includes photographs, maps, videos and digital visualizations.

The Columbian Model and Exhibit Works built the large-scale model using data from Sanborn Maps, Google and Chicago-based Okrent Associates using rapid prototyping three-dimensional printers rather than traditional hand-made models. The company used Google SketchUp and CAD software to geolocate each block and Magics software from Materialise to do the rapid prototyping. They’ve posted a slideshow of the process here.


The exhibit is broken into five different themes. Global City examines the economic engines of transportation networks, specifically looking at the impact of O’Hare Airport and freight railways. Connected City looks at how highways and the elevated train encouraged urban growth and contribute to quality of life. Green City focuses on the impact of urbanization on the health of citizens and the region. Beautiful City features Chicagoans’ efforts to build an efficient, pleasurable, and moral environment through beautification. New City investigates the impact that demolition and rebuilding have had on the city.

The model is planned for permanent display as the centerpiece of the Chicago Architecture Foundation exhibit space. The model is also being promoted as a tool to help the city in preparations and outreach for the upcoming 2016 Olympics.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Laser Color Multifunction Printer September 18, 2009 at 3:56 am

Printers did this? No way. Technology is just getting better and better. These types of sculptures can really help a city plan for major events besides the Olympics, like the plans for building a new skyscraping.

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