My father sometimes made models for projects he was trying to sell. These would be plaster on wire frame or sometimes cut and carved from wood and plastic. I remember one in particular: it was for a garbage cooking plant to feed pigs.. I don't recall why, but the main topological feature was a hill with a road leading up to it. I don't know if my father successfully sold that project, but that model became part of the landscape of my toys and many a toy cowboy or soldier battled enemies from that hilltop.
Later my father built a train set in our attic - plaster mountains that the trains passed through, a lot of interesting detail; he must have had great fun designing and building it. The toy cowboys and soldiers had great adventures in that setting also.
It's not easy to make topological models and of course that's especially true if you want accuracy. However, today we have satellites that provide very accurate data, and there are companies that produce 3-D visualizations from that data.
I would think it would be not all that difficult to produce actual physical scale models from that information. I can easily imagine a machine that could produce and even colorize topological models including buildings from satellite image data. Of course nothing stops you from adding to that data: want to see what an area looks like after building a new shopping complex? That would be easy enough to do, and of course my father's garbage processing plant would be even easier.
But isn't the 3-D visualization and virtual reality good enough? I'm not sure. I think a real scale model somehow is still better for an overall view. The virtual model can provide more detail, but two dimensional representations are just not the same as the real thing.
I tried Googling to see if anyone is doing anything like this, but came up empty. That doesn't mean it doesn't exist; it's just that all appropriate search terms tend to find the virtual modeling, so real scale modeling may just be buried in the results if it does exist.
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