Earth at 1:1 Billion

Tim Black on design across vastly different scales…

What is special about this model?

This model continues a fascination with the Earth generally, and also with scale. It is a replica of the Wheeler Solar System installation along Melbourne’s foreshore. Tony and Maureen Wheeler funded a 1:1 billion scale model of our solar system stretching from St. Kilda’s marina to Port Melbourne. 

At 1:1 billion, if you do a fairy walk – when you walk heel to toe successfully – it puts you at a pace of approximately 1km/h, which is at scale means that you are walking 1:1 billionth the speed of light. It takes light 8 minutes to get from the Sun to Earth. At St Kilda, you can walk from the model of the Sun, which is about 2m in diameter, to the model of the Earth, which is about 13mm in diameter, which – in fairy steps – also takes 8 minutes. I know this for a fact as I’ve done it with my daughter!

For us, this fascination with scale puts things in perspective. What is utterly astounding is that the Earth is one of 9 planets that sit in a vast field of emptiness. It is just amazing how little matter there is.

Where and when did the idea behind this model originate?

The idea comes from a long-standing fascination with the nature and scale of the Earth, and really thinking about design at all scales: from the detail to the building, to the city, the planet, to the solar system.

It also comes from the way GPS heightens our awareness of our geo-location, so that we are constantly aware of where we are on the planet at any time.

Another inspiration for this is Charles and Ray Eames’ Powers of 10

Has this influenced any projects within the BKK studio?

It is influencing a project at present: the ACMI Renewal Project at Federation Square. We have been talking to ACMI and to our collaborators about how we can ready the space for a new kind of augmented reality experience that is geo-located.

How do we build an accurate geo-located model based on a 3D point cloud and refit model survey? And can that provide a new space for a new type of technological design entrepreneur? Accurate geo-location can form a foundation of a new layer of experience through digital media. As yet, we don't quite know what this is, but we think the opportunities are huge. 

How does it relate to the other 99 models?

There are quite a few models that have geo-spatial references or play with scale.  For example, M001 draws upon publicly available cadastral data. It is a smaller component of the planet, but it nevertheless engages in big thinking about spaces and place beyond buildings, or even cities, including entire mountain systems.