THINC: July 2021

Geography, Technology and Art at THINC
by Denise Sullivan
HURLEYVILLE, July 2021– A state park resides inside the Technology Hub and Incubator (THINC) building.
Yes, you read that correctly. The entire 700,000 plus acres of Catskill Park was reduced to a 3-dimensional art installation measuring 93 inches long by 44 inches wide by 4 inches thick. The lightweight, large art installation rests on the computer numeric controlled (CNC) router where it was carved mechanically from a large block of foam. After it is painted to accurately depict the water, landmarks and landscape features of Catskill Park, it will hang inside the new office of Catskill Mountainkeeper at 220 Main Street in Hurleyville.
Every map at the Unites States Geological Survey (USGS) website is now available to download as a digital file, free of charge. The US Topo series is a new generation of maps of the American landscape, produced by the National Geospatial Program. Printing one of these maps allows the user to have a 2-dimensional paper representation of a 3-dimensional mapped area of the country, complete with contour lines of elevation, hydrography, geographic place names, and a variety of cultural features.
For the Catskill Park project, additional digital elevation data was added to create a stereo lithography (STL) file, the industry standard file type for 3-D printers. In theory, if THINC had an extremely large 3-D printer, the piece could have been made using additive manufacturing, creating the three-dimensional map, layer-by-layer, using a computer created design. The end product would have taken a very long time to print from plastic filament, and would have been much heavier. Instead, the STL file was exported and converted to geometric code (G code), the programming language used to control CNC machinery. The 3-axis instructions in the file represent the three directions the cutting tool can move to create the exact length, width, and height of the object. CNC routers execute subtractive manufacturing, cutting away from a solid block of material, in this case, machinable foam, which is sold in various weights and is heavier and denser than Styrofoam. Machinable foam is relatively inexpensive and used for many projects, like architectural prototyping, mold machining, and sculpture.
Making the world accessible through downloadable digital files is not exclusive to USGS maps of the United States. Scan the World is an open-source museum initiative that allows users to 3-D print renowned historic artifacts, like classic sculptures. Through a partnership with Google Arts and Culture, these 3D printable artifacts are now available through Google’s ubiquitous platforms. This work of bridging the gaps between technology and the arts, geography or science is all around us, and expanding constantly.
The Catskill Park project will be finished by tracing and painting the projection of landmarks and all other map details onto the routed topography that was made at THINC. The completed piece will foster understanding and appreciation of the beautiful state park that Sullivan County resides in, along with Ulster, Green, and Delaware counties.
Isn’t technology a wonderful thing?