Students Recreate Historic Buildings With 3D Printers

Mar 27, 2015

Since October, about 20 Vermont schools have been competing in a first-of-its-kind project that combines high tech 3D printing and old fashioned local history.

This week, the teams of students gathered at Vermont Technical College in Randolph Center to show their work.

A big white rectangle that covered the floor represented the state of Vermont. Marked on it were various towns, and on each town stood small buildings ranging from the size of a matchbox to a breadbox.

Each was a replica of a historic structure in the town and each was created using a 3D printer.

The buildings are the culmination of months of work that started with learning the history of the buildings.

“It’s authentic historical research. It’s more of what a historian would do rather than a history student,” says Hartford High School teacher Mike Hathorn.

He got the idea for the competition among the state’s middle and high schools after learning of a similar college event.

"It's authentic historical research. It's more of what a historian would do rather than a history student." - Mike Hathorn, teacher

Hathorn trained teachers from around the state to work with teams of students at their schools. The first step was choosing which buildings to study. Then came researching their histories and studying their architecture. They then used 3D modeling software to create a virtual replica of the buildings and after that, came the process of turning the virtual model into a real one using a 3D printer to create a three dimensional scale replica.

Hathorn says each step presented new challenges for the students. “The end result is the kids not only go away with a better history knowledge of their town, but they have so many problem-solving skills that they’ve developed along the way. I think that’s probably what they’re going to carry with them forever,” he says.

A 3D printed replica of the historic Haskell Free Library and Opera House in Derby Line was one of the largest models on display.
Credit Steve Zind / VPR

One of the more intriguing projects was done by students from Windsor High School who recreated a cotton mill that no longer exists.  

Credit Steve Zind / VPR

Freshmen Brianna Diggs and Vincent Moeykens said the team used documents, photographs and designs for the original building to recreate the structure. are part of the team.

Windsor senior Shelby Gebert says the students also found a roster of the people who worked at the mill.

“There were a lot of families where the parents and the children were working at the factory together,” Gebert says.

She was struck by the fact that some of the workers were as young as nine years old. “It just makes me think about how kids lived in the past,” she says.

"We've never seen anything quite like this before. It's great that Vermont is piloting it. Hopefully if this takes off we'll not only see it in additional years but in other parts of the country as well." - Matt Dunne, Google

The competition was a collaborative effort that included several state agencies and departments, Hartford High School and Google. “We’ve never seen anything quite like this before,” says Matt Dunne of Google. “It’s great that Vermont is piloting it. Hopefully if this takes off we’ll not only see it in additional years but in other parts of the country as well.”

A 3D printer uses a spool of plastic instead of ink to create a model.
Credit Steve Zind / VPR

At the end of the day, the Windsor High School team, which created the 3D version of the old cotton mill took first prize.