Filling Box Models

Physical Prototypes
Related: Working Prototypes Exhibition, Materializing Convection, Architecture’s Model Environments
Photography: Lisa Moffitt

The filling box is a mechanical engineering technique for simulating buoyancy induced airflow. It entails submerging a plexi-glass model filled (or injected with) dyed saltwater into a tank of freshwater and observing flow patterns through openings in the model. Fresh water simulates less dense (warm) air and dyed salt water represents dense (cold) air. The opposite effect can be observed by mirroring the image; in the mirrored image, dyed salt water represents warm air and fresh water cold. Two prototypes appropriate the filling box technique for use as an architectural design tool. Filling tank models represent nested environments in which buildings are metaphorically“tanks”submerged within the“tank”of the skydome.The models remind us that buildings are in constant collusion with and are often destabilized by their atmospheric surroundings, requiring tethering, anchoring, or grounding for stability.The models leak,and they leak somewhere, and that somewhere leaks beyond, inaugurating a series of cascading environmental effects. In doing so, they establish connections across a vast range of scales of atmospheric exchange. The leak places buildings within a context of possibility and consequence, acting as reminders of Evangelista Torricelli’s observation in 1644 (when describing his discovery of thesensitive air-weighinginstrument, the barometer) that “we live submerged at the bottomof an ocean of the element air.”