Forensic Architecture (FA) is a research agency, based at Goldsmiths, University of London, that undertakes advanced architectural and media research on behalf of international prosecutors, human rights organisations, as well as political and environmental justice groups.
Forensic Architecture is also an emergent field we have developed at Goldsmiths. It refers to the production and presentation of architectural evidence – buildings and larger environments and their media representations.
As contemporary conflicts increasingly take place within urban areas, homes and neighbourhoods become targets and most civilian casualties occur within cities and buildings. Urban battlefields have become dense data and media environments, generating information that is shared on social and mainstream media. Many violations, undertaken within cities and buildings, are now caught on camera and are made available almost instantly. The premise of FA is that analysing IHL and HR violations must involve modelling dynamic events as they unfold in space and time and creating navigable 3D models of environments undergoing conflict, as well as the creation of filmic animations, and interactive cartographies on the urban or architectural scale.
These techniques allow us to present information in a convincing, precise, and accessible manner, crucial for the pursuit of accountability. Architectural analysis is important also because it enables new insights into the context and conduct of urban conflicts. FA has a track record in providing unique and decisive evidence in high profile human rights investigation about incidents that other methods cannot engage with. We undertake investigations in collaboration with partner organisations that include international prosecution teams, HR organizations such as Amnesty International (AI), the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ), Human Rights Watch, Centro para la Acción Legal en Derechos Humanos/ Guatemala, Migeurop and the UN Special Rapporteur for Counter Terrorism and HR, B’tselem and Al Mezan in Palestine and share our work with the public via leading research and cultural institutes. Our main beneficiaries are the victims of HR violations and other communities at stake in conflict zones.
The widespread possession of cheap digital recording equipment, the development of satellite communication, the public availability of remote sensing technology and the ability to communicate and diffuse information instantaneously through the internet have made urban conflict more complex, but also generate enormous amounts of data that can be used as potential resources for monitoring. Available in real-time, these sources challenge the evidentiary practices of HR and IHL work otherwise grounded in witness interviews well after the fact. But these transformations also lead to secondary conflict about veracity and interpretation that takes place on news and social media websites. The establishment of new forums of international jurisdiction such as the ICC and others mean that also contemporary forums themselves become dense media environments. In them screen-to-screen interaction replaces face-to-face deliberation. The combined process of the urbanisation and mediatisation of war makes FA an urgent and indispensible practice for human rights investigations. FA seeks to respond to these challenges by developing new modes of media research and new modes of media presentation for urban and architectural environments.
In recent years FA has successfully tested its methodologies in a number of landmark legal and human rights cases undertaken together with and on behalf of threatened communities, NGOs, prosecutors and the UN. [see all Investigations]
Our work has also generated a robust debate in human rights, architecture and legal circles. The UN Special Rapporteur for Counter Terrorism and Human Rights commissioned FA to analyse the destruction of buildings targeted by drone strikes [see Drone Strikes] as well as patterns of destruction in towns and villages resulting from drone warfare in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Gaza undertaken with BIJ [see BIJ Drone Strikes in Pakistan]. We developed unique data-pattern cartographies for Waziristan and Gaza [see Gaza Platform], and undertook a number of presentations in high courts in Israel, Italy, and France. In 2014-2015 FA collaborated with Amnesty international on reports on the 2014 Gaza conflict [see Rafah, Black Friday]. In 2012, FA was invited to produce architectural evidence for the genocide trial of former Guatemalan military dictators Luca García (July 1978 – March 1982) and Ríos Montt (March 1982 – August 1983) in the National Court of Guatemala, and in the Inter-American Court for Human Rights. FA provided digital architectural models and animations to support a petition brought by the Palestinian village of Battir against the security barrier (wall) in the Israeli High Court, helping to win the case in 2015 [see The Wall in Battir]. Using LIDAR scanners and ground-penetrating radar we undertook a complete forensic survey of the former WW2 concentration camp of Staro Sajmište in Belgrade (2013) [see Living Death Camps]. We worked with Migeurop in relation to the death of migrants in the Mediterranean [see Left-to-Die Boat].
FA’s evidence files, taking the shape of models, drawings, maps, web-based interactive cartographies, films, and animations have also been exhibited in leading cultural and art institutions [see Exhibitions]. The Victoria and Albert Museum in London purchased some of our visual material for their permanent collection (2015). FA’s impact was further consolidated by academic reviews [see Forensis review in Society and Space, in Radical Philosophy], mainstream media reports [see Press] a documentary film produced about our work [see Architecture of Violence], numerous academic reviews, and was presented in several keynote lectures [see Lecture at UniSA Nelson Mandela, Lecture at Peter Wall Institute of Advanced Studies].
Forensic Architecture started in 2011, with funding from the European Research Council Starting Grant awarded to Prof. Eyal Weizman (2011–2015). The project is hosted by the Centre for Research Architecture, in the Department of Visual Cultures, at Goldsmiths, University of London.