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

Findings and discussion

The advantages of virtual models

The outcomes of these two assignments support our starting assumptions about the benefits of virtual models. Our first assumption was that this approach would make possible the otherwise impossible task of constructing complete models. Both the 1994-95 and the 1995-96 classes finished the standard sample model of 310 instances. The first class, doing the building assignment, took a week and a half; the second class, doing the facade assignment, used the improved version of the kit and finished the same models in one hour.

The first class, with no background in Chinese architecture, went on to design and construct sixteen complete models in two and a half weeks. This was possible only because they were working with virtual models; it would have been impossible with physical models. The models had as many 900 instances, and if students had had to form each one individually, they would have abandoned the task in short order.

In addition, the advantages of virtual models are meaningful precisely because the system is rule-based. It is a simple job to provide students with a small set of primitives (a kit of parts) which they duplicate as necessary. Their attention is then focussed on the conceptual underpinning of the system: the rules. We had assumed that our approach would make the rule-based system obvious and prevent students from getting bogged down in details. It is clear from the products and students' comments that this was the case. One student wrote:

Before this assignment, I think Chinese building is very mysterious as it seems to be very complex and [to] have a lot of small elements. When we open a book about this, it is full of complex diagrams and ... unknown Chinese terms.

However, ... in this project ... [t]he [building] process is simple.... I think that I can read some references more easily with this experience of handling this project. (Desmond Tse Kwok Cheung, 1995-96)

Our second assumption was that using virtual models would make possible not only single models, but also sets of comparison models. In the building assignment, one group took the initiative to do a small set of comparison models, showing that they recognized this possibility and thought it useful. In fact, at a larger scale, the whole group of sixteen models demonstrates how one set of rules and one set of building parts can lead to varied results.

The facade assignment was an explicit comparison of results produced by varying the values of two parameters. The value to students is clear.

From the project, we can see that the way of Chinese building according to Yingzao fashi is really a modulated building system. Once we know the rules..., we can build a large variety of buildings, ... from a small village house ... to a large palace for the emperor.... This is really an amazing building technology. (Victor Fung Chi Hang, 1995-96)

Students commented that assignments with the virtual model kit are more effective as part of a history course. In fact, the assignment and the course seem to be complementary. A history course provides the background knowledge against which students can verify their observations during the assigment.

We have done similar assignment using the Yingzao fashi in the first term [in the CAD course]. However, we knew nothing about traditional Chinese building structure at that time. It seemed to me that I did something that I was totally unfamiliar with. As a result, I learnt nothing. For this time, it is fruitful to do this exercise as we have already obtained basic knowledge about the construction of traditional houses during history courses. We are clear about [the] content of this exercise. (Pery Ho Kin Yun, 1995-96)

Conversely, many students felt that the assignments give them the experience of building a building, an experience which they do not otherwise have, either in lectures or field trips.

I think the programme contributes to my deeper understanding of the basic Chinese building system, especially the roof structure. It is because I have the chance to assemble a whole building myself. And different components can be seen from a more three-dimensional view on the computer. (Rosetta Kwong Mei Ying, 1995-96)

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