In Jorge Luis Borges’ story, On Exactitude in Science, Borges imagines an empire where cartographers become so extreme that they believe that the only a map that will suffice will need to be on the same scale as the empire itself, that is on a one to one scale. The entire land is covered by this map, a real false reality, a model. This model, which had become real, was inevitably destroyed by the elements of nature leaving only remnants of the map. Borges sees the map as a model, and the model is no longer approximate of the world it describes, it is the world. Borges’ story adds a deeper layer of meaning than a paper-thin map to what constitutes a model or modeling.
Model comes from the Latin word modulus, which means itself and its opposite, not itself. In its most general sense a model can be defined as a small-scale object that translates a working method or illustrates and formalizes ideas. Models are commonly associated with architectural practice and conceived as rationalised representations in which the designer’s primary concern is not with what is necessarily possible but rather with what is plausible. However, within the last decade there has occurred a shift in the understanding of the primary function of a model. Artist Olafur Eliasson has written about this shift and he believes that models are no longer thought of as merely a representation of reality but instead have become co-producers of reality. Models can convey an idea that can be interpreted or at least be open to interpretation instead of merely illustrating reality. The model, or rather the idea modeled, becomes a space for negotiation, not for final assertion. A model presents a set of possible potentialities from which to construct a new model of a reality independent from even the model itself. A model is not necessarily a way to reduce thought to only a tool to achieve or realize a desired end, but as a guide, or map, as a means for further discovery. Artists use models to articulate questions, guide experiments, respond to imagination and to suggest propositions. In this way the model may be thought of as a method – a means of working that requires interpretation rather than as an illustration of an end.
In 2010 at the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin, Olafur Eliasson exhibited the “Model Room”, 2003 an installation of his ‘laboratory’ full of incomplete or failed projects and geometric models that reference Buckminster Fuller‘s geodesic dome and inventions based on building principles found in nature. Eliasson realised these models with Einar Thorsteinn, an Icelandic architect who in fact worked with Fuller himself. Eliasson doesn’t see these models as illustrations of things yet to be built but as vehicles for inquiry as part of his ongoing process of investigation into the realities and potentialities of nature as, well, model.