Powers of Ten, Scale, and Cube-making

October 11th, 2010


In celebration of 10/10/10, we spent the first part of our class today watching the iconic film Powers of Ten by prolific design duo Ray and Charles Eames. The film was made in 1968 and explores the idea of scale beautifully. By starting with the image of a man and woman on a picnic blanket on Chicago’s lakefront, the field of view zooms out, by a factor of 10 every 10 seconds, zooming beyond Chicago, beyond the United States, into the atmosphere, into the solar system, and beyond (to a 10 to the 24th degree view). Then, it returns to the man’s hand, and goes the other way, to a 10 to the -15th degree view.

The film has become a staple in design education and in public education for its beautiful visual representation of all scales in our physical world. We showed the film in order to more thoroughly discuss scale, which we have worked with in drafting, but also as a different perspective on “looking” and “seeing.” As we begin to move into our second project, which will be our first architectural undertaking, we’ll need to look at everything from the exact diameter of a hole or wood tolerance, up to the scale of the entire object and how it sits in its environment. Even with the Cornhole board project, we encouraged students to focus on precision, sometimes down to a 1/16″ of an inch, but then also to step back and examine the design in context. All of these “viewpoints” matter, and the film helped us remember the power of perspective, and how sometimes big things look small, and small things look big. We also noted that the furthest “zoomed out” image in the film sort of resembled the closest “zoomed in,” which provided a nice circular view of everything from the smallest electron to the largest galaxy.

Powers of Ten was also the perfect inspiration for our next exercise in modelmaking: making a perfect cube with mitred edges. We spent the remainder of the day perfecting our drafting, measuring, and use of an Exacto blade to perfectly mitre foam core into a folding cube. The art of using an Exacto with perfect precision required the type of “zoomed in” view shown in the film, while the box itself, while completed, would need to be a perfectly self-contained thing, requiring a more holistic view.


The first step was to draft the six 4″ squared in the shape of a cross. This cross shape would be cut out and eventually fold together. Then, students had to score the folding lines, and measure 5/32″ (the width of the foam core) to either side. These lines would be the 45 degree mitre cuts that would allow the cube to fold together perfectly. Once the mitre cuts were completed, the entire cross-shaped piece of foam core would have the appropriate amount and shape of removed material for it to enclose upon itself in the form of a perfect cube.


Students struggled a bit to cut through the first 2 layers of foam core but not all the way, allowing the cube to fold together. However, the exercise was an important building block to help us move into more detailed modelmaking tomorrow and the rest of the week, probably using thinner chip board instead of the foam core. And ultimately, modlemaking will evolve into digital 3d rendering in Google Sketchup. All of these tools will be integral to the representation of our chicken coop design, and all of which will need to be considered at a variety of scales.



Studio H is a public high school "design/build" curriculum that sparks rural community development through real-world, creative projects. By learning through a design sensibility, applied core subjects, and "dirt-under-your-fingernails" construction skills, students develop the creative capital, critical thinking, and citizenship necessary for their own success and for the future of their communities.


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