This model of the Empire State Building is built out of just twelve simple block-like components in Tinkercad. Print this model to enjoy, or get inspired to create and print your own personal city!
Read on for some 3D design tips and a MakerEd Project for using this type of 3D design in a classroom, library, or makerspace.
In this section we'll talk about how we designed our 3D model of the Empire State Building. In the next section we'll suggest an outline for a classroom project where students create their own 3D models of other buildings.
Every piece of this Empire State Building model was made from a simple shape in Tinkercad. Tinkercad is free, runs in your browser, and is really easy to learn. You can get started with Tinkercad's Lesson Quests or get more in-depth by using Thingiverse's Jumpstart resources for Tinkercad.
To scale each shape to the exact size we wanted, we used the Ruler tool from the Helper menu on the right side of the screen. By dragging the Ruler to any point on the blue Workplane, we could see the dimensions of each shape and even change those dimensions by typing the numbers into the dimension text boxes (instead of trying to drag things into the correct size). Here's what things looked like in Tinkercad when we had the Ruler on the Workplane and were working on the first component of the building:
To make the rest of the model we just kept adding more component shapes and then dragging them into place. Here's what it looked like partway through the design process:
And below is what it looked like at the end, with all components grouped together. Notice that we selected "Multicolor" so that we could keep all the separate component colors. We made the model file public, so you can open the model and edit it live in Tinkercad if you like.
- Design and create 3D printed buildings from scratch.
- Build complex designs from simple component pieces.
- Learn basic 3D design skills and how to use Tinkercad or other modeling software.
- Explore geography, history, cities, or buildings (depending on classroom usage).
- Anyone of any age that is new to 3D modeling can use this modeling project to get started with Tinkercad.
- Students in grades K-8 can use this project as a jumping-off point for constructing models of local buildings, cities around the world, historical buildings, or imaginary cities from books they are reading.
- Students will need access to computers and a reliable internet connection, and be logged into a free Tinkercad account (either with their own accounts, or each logged into the same classroom account).
- Tinkercad is easier to use with a mouse than with a tablet or trackpad, so computer mice are recommended.
- No previous 3D design experience is required for the students, although familiarity with Tinkercad would be helpful.
- The instructor should be comfortable answering modeling questions about Tinkercad and be able to advise students to avoid design features that might cause printing difficulties (overhangs, delicate features, etc).
- It is helpful to have students form into working groups of two or three so that they can collaborate on the design process. Having students work in groups is also helpful if you have a limited number of computers and/or limited 3D printer access.
Step 1: Choose a building to model
Have each group of students choose a specific building to model. If this project is used primarily as a 3D design lesson, then students could choose any real or fictional buildings. Or, if this project is used in conjunction with other parts of your curriculum, then have your subject matter guide your students' choices:
- In a Geography class, students could choose landmark buildings or typical types of buildings from the region they are studying.
- In a History class, students could model buildings representative of the culture or time that they are learning about.
- In a Literature class, students could create buildings that are part of the fictional universe of the book they have been reading.
Step 2: Research and make a sketch of the building
Have students prepare for creating 3D models of their buildings by researching the shape and look of the building first and then making sketches on paper. Encourage them to use descriptions, photographs, illustrations, and even videos to determine what the building looks like from multiple angles and directions. If a building is well-known, then a simple Google Image Search can return a wide array of pictures in just one click; for example here are just some of the results for the Empire State Building:
Step 3: Plan out the building as a collection of simple components
Now ask students to revisit their sketches and try to break them up into smaller components, for example boxes, arcs, wedges, or hemispheres. What is the smallest number of basic shapes that they could use and still have a realistic representation of their building? Ask the students to sketch their buildings again, this time in terms of these simple pieces and a "parts list" of those pieces. You can use the example in the image below as an example to show the students what they should do. This example image is also included in downloadable, printable form in the file EmpireStateSchematic.pdf that is included in the download list for this thing.
Step 4: Create a 3D model of the building
Note that up to this point, no computers have been necessary (except possibly for research purposes). If you have limited computer access for your students, then you can have your students complete the previous steps outside of the computer lab, or even as part of their homework.
Now it is finally time to get to 3D design!
Have students get into their modeling groups and log into their own accounts or your classroom account at www.tinkercad.com. Ask them to use their "parts list" and their final sketches to determine which shapes to drag to the Workplane. Then have them scale and place the pieces together to create a 3D model of their building.
To help your students learn how to use the tools and features of Tinekrcad to create these models, you can refer to the "How I Designed This" section above. Or, send your students over to Thingiverse's Jumpstart resources for Tinkercad to learn the basics.
Step 5: Review models, iterate, and 3D print.
Have each group present their digital design to the class, and encourage students to give feedback on each others' models. Things to consider include:
- Is the model sized correctly for the class requirements?
- Are there any parts of the model that might need modification to increase the chance that it will 3D print successfully?
- Does the model address the historical/literary/geographic lesson of the class, and how?
- What improvements to the model could be made before 3D printing?
After students make final modifications to their designs, they can submit them for 3D printing.
At the end of this project, each group of students should have:
- Records of any notes or research they did before the project
- An initial sketch of their building
- A component-breakdown sketch of their building
- Notes on improvements or iterations in their 3D model design
- A 3D printed building
One way to have students submit their work is by uploading their STL files to Thingiverse. This will also help other students and educators have access to lots of cool models of buildings for future projects! Here is a sample workflow for using Thingiverse to keep track of your students' projects:
- Have each student group upload their STL file and supporting documents to a Thing on Thingiverse.
- Encourage students to photograph their printed items and use that photo as the "Cover image" of their design.
- You can have students "tag" their Things with some appropriate identifier so that you can easily search for the designs later.
- If you like, you could use a classroom Thingiverse account to make a Collection of your students' design submissions to make a portfolio of designs for your class.