Why we should 3D print buildings

Maps have an amazing ability to focus a discussion. As a discussions becomes bigger less people can see the map and the conversation breaks down. This is actually a really big problem. 

We make decisions by discussion

Since the time of socrates western countries have had strong traditions of discussion in an open forum. It’s built into government and it’s a good model.

  • Good ideas survive criticism and gain strength as the do so
  • Bad ideas crumble as weaknesses in the foundation are exposed


Discussion is difficult when there are lots of people involved Important decisions usually have lots of people involved

While maps are critical to discussion we are limited to electronic devices which do no necessarily lend themselves meetings of ideas. It’s not always possible to have big screens available to view an application or web map.

Social functions are where decisions really take place. Lots of little groups of people mingling ideas and ultimately consensus being reached as ideas are strengthened and weakened in the crowd. These strings of smaller decisions usually end up as larger more formalized decisions such as a vote.


Decisions are usually already made before formal presentations and voting

It my working hypothesis that the ideal time to influence a decision with a map is actually during the initial discussion phases. Really as early as possible. Presenting a map to people who have already thought the problem though is akin to presenting evidence in a trial moments before asking for the verdict.4

Getting a map into the forum

Paper maps have usually worked really well. Prepare them ahead of time and take them to the meetings in question. I know of people who go so far to hang them behind presenters half way through their talk to draw attention. The same strategy can be used for drawing attention to web maps if there is a screen present.

Paper maps are particularly good for collaborative use. Here’s an amazing video to illustrate the point.

3D print your props

I’ve worked on a project to 3D print buildings in my city to facilitate planning discussions. It proved to be an excellent way to target the discussion. I re-purposed an old filing cabinet tray and stuck magnets to the buildings. It was novel. A great way to bring a mapping message to a discussion in a portable way that was completely natural in a conference room. It could be passed around to different discussions; while also being taken out to a coffee shop, pub or bar. Because I magnetized everything you could turn it upside down and everything would stay in place, yet people could still inspect the various buildings in question. My experiment was certainly not the absolute solution but I thought it was worth sharing as a genuine option for people looking to facilitate discussion.


Don’t get carried away

I ultimately printed a lot more buildings because of the early versions success. My advice for anyone interested in doing something similar is to keep the model small. Most of the benefit is lost if it cannot be easily moved from conversation to conversation. Although I must say an A1 3D printed map does look really cool hanging on the wall.



Thanks for reading,



p.s if you would like more direct instruction on 3D printing buildings then please feel free to get in touch.

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