In Forensic Architecture’s work, physical and digital models are more than mere three-dimensional representations of proposed structures – as they are typically used in architectural practice – but rather function as analytical or operative devices. Spatial and non-spatial models provide a theoretical understanding of the way in which particular incidents may have unfolded, or can help make predictions as to how certain situations might develop. Others are used to test, simulate, create and present evidence. They are OPERATIVE MODELS, to paraphrase filmmaker Harun Farocki’s concept of ‘operative images’ – entities that not only represent, but ‘do’ things in the world, serving as essential means to construct evidence and assemble a forum around it.
In the FIELD, the process of re-enacting incidents can turn a crime scene into a self-referential model, a spatial representation that overlaps the place it represents. In the LABORATORY or STUDIO, spatial models constructed within digital environments can provide evidence by simulating material processes such as the impact of a blast or the progression of fire and smoke through the air. They allow the manipulation of time, freezing or bifurcating it to test alternative scenarios. Models are also used as interview devices to enable testimony, and can become archival repositories or spatial information systems in which other kinds of evidence – images, videos, documents or material things – are summoned up and cross referenced.
In the FORUM, the presentation of physical and digital models rearranges the relation between objects and bodies in space. Such models can serve to shift the means of communication, and to focus attention, allowing for the demonstration of complex claims on the terms of those that want to make them. To become operative across these domains, models need to be calibrated with the physical phenomena they seek to represent. The term GROUND TRUTH refers to such a process of anchoring elements of a representation to its source. Just as a satellite image analyst needs to compare pixels in an image with empirical data on the elements on the ground in order to calibrate material, colour and scale, so the modeler needs to align elements of digital models with their equivalent elements in physical space. The notion of GROUND TRUTH highlights the ever present gap between reality and its representation, and the importance of such anchoring in testing different possible realities.