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                         / Title page / Introduction / Approach / Assignments / Findings and discussion / Conclusion / Notes & References /

The assignments

We have used the virtual model kit in a number of different ways and at different levels, from a one-session exercise in an introductory CAD course to a term-long research project in an advanced course in Song wood construction. Here we discuss the two assignments that we gave in required second-year courses in the undergraduate architecture programme at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. The first was a four-week assignment in the introductory CAD course in 1994-95 (49 students), and used an early version of the model kit. The second assignment, two weeks long, was given in the Chinese architecture survey course in 1995-96 (44 students). By this time, we had improved the kit according to our experience with the first assignment.

Design and construction of a complete building (1994-95)

The assignment was to design and construct a virtual model of the structural frame of an official Song building, according to the rules of the Yingzao fashi. Thus it encompassed the complete process, from design through construction. Students had had no courses in Chinese architecture, but were taking a twentieth-century architecture survey concurrently. We gave the assignment in the required introductory CAD course, which it served as an exercise in three-dimensional modelling. In terms of architectural history, however, our goal was to introduce the students to the systematic basis of Song wood construction.

We divided the assignment into two stages. In the first stage, the students were each to build one bay of a sample model, which used, unaltered, the parts provided in the model kit. This was to give them practice in manipulating the components and to introduce them to the parameters governing the overall dimensions of the building (e.g., building width and bay width, building depth and bay depth, and column height). This stage was long--one and a half weeks--because we had not yet developed the customized commands.

In the second stage, lasting two and a half weeks, the students worked in groups of three or four. Each group proposed and, after our approval, designed and constructed a complete model of a different building and prepared a report. Most groups focussed on one or more of the parameters listed above; a few groups investigated parameters that we had simplified or eliminated, such as the sources of curvature. Students were required to conform with the rules governing the values and interrelationships of the parameters.

Rule-based facade design (1995-96)

We gave this assignment in the required Chinese architecture survey course. There were forty-four students, all of whom had had a one-term introductory CAD course, a one-term survey course in twentieth-century architecture, and a field trip to China.

This assignment differed from the earlier one in that it examined only two parameters: the width and height of the central bay. Students constructed thirty variations of the same sample model as the year before. They then printed out the facades at the same scale, and pinned them on the wall in a six-by-five matrix (six widths by five heights).

Of these thirty facades, only fourteen were sanctioned; sixteen were not. Students studied the matrix and wrote a short essay on the relation between the three rules and the boundary between the sanctioned and the unsanctioned facades. This boundary is determined by the three rules governing the height and width of the central bay. The first rule limits the width (200 to 450 fen, [note 2] or 2.560 to 5.760 m), the second limits the height (up to 375 fen, or 4.800 m, with no minimum given), and the third limits the relation between the width and the height (the height may not exceed the width).

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