A Centre for Ants: Zoolander’s simulation definition

For those who are wondering about the difference between modelling and simulation, we offer our Derek Zoolander-inspired simulation definition.

“What is this? A center for ants? How can we be expected to teach children to learn how to read… if they can’t even fit inside the building?” Derek Zoolander.

It started quite innocently. I was walking out of the State Library in Brisbane late one Friday afternoon, contemplating how best to introduce a definition of simulation in the first print edition of Simpublica, a suggestion that had emerged the previous evening in one of our focus groups. My peripheral vision caught the brass model of the Queensland Culture Centre complex and an idea began to form. Turning to our photographer I said “Nic, how do you feel about shooting this sculpture? To my great surprise and mirth, she replied by quoting Ben Stiller’s character from Paramount Pictures’ 2001 movie Zoolander, and immediately the challenges and benefits of simulation flashed through my mind.

sim·u·la·tion sim-yoo-lay-shun
1. abstraction of reality used for a purpose
2. exercising a physical, mathematical or virtual model over time
3. faking, acting out or mimicking actual or possible real events or occurrences to learn about them.

To make the pictured model into a simulation, we need to add time. Here are some examples.

1. Conduct a shadow study by using a compass to guide the movement of a light over the model to understand how the buildings cast shadows.
2. Make a digital reproduction and add dynamic pedestrians or vehicles to examine traffic flow.
3. Add varying amounts of water to determine drainage challenges or visualize flood impacts.
4. Test airflow between and around the buildings, using a fan.[/twocol_one_last]

The reality tests: fidelity and resolution

How real does it need to be; and how much detailed is needed to make it real enough?

For each of our examples, what are the details that need to be accurate to ensure the validity of the simulations? What if we didn’t use a compass to guide the simulated sun? What if the air velocity output by the fan far exceeds ordinary wind speeds in the local area? What if the real building is by the ocean or in the desert? What if we wanted to test how the building would stand up to the elements over time?

This is the science of simulation.

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