Here's a video featuring artist Reuben Margolin.
His work is beautiful and inspiring. The strings, pulleys, wheels, and beams in his sculptures mimic complex fluid mechanics.
His Spiral Wave (at 1:00) shows the vortex from a canoe paddle stroke. Very good.
Margolin's kinetic models look like digital wireframe representations. So why bother with a huge, complex physical model?
Because they're beautiful. And tactile, and so much more interesting and instructive than computer code. Margolin's work is wonderful reminder of why we build our models.
In a well made physical model of a river you can see and touch the whole process. Current velocity, bed slope, meander wavelength, the mechanics of cantilever bank failure, the building of dunes and bars. You can put your hand into the box and cause chaos, then watch the system adjust.
Pretty soon you're developing ideas about that system, investigating the pulleys and strings, then doing an experiment (science) and having a good time doing it.