Forensic Architecture (FA) is a research agency, based at Goldsmiths, University of London. We undertake advanced architectural and media research on behalf of international prosecutors, human rights organisations and political and environmental justice groups.

Forensic architecture is also an emergent academic field developed at Goldsmiths. It refers to the production and presentation of architectural evidence – buildings and urban environments and their media representations.


Background

As contemporary conflicts increasingly take place within urban areas, homes and neighbourhoods have become targets, and most civilian casualties occur within cities and buildings. Urban battlefields have become dense data and media environments. War crimes and human rights violations, undertaken within cities and buildings, are now caught on camera and often made available almost instantly.

The premise of FA is that analysing violations of human rights and international humanitarian law (IHL) in urban, media-rich environments requires modelling dynamic events as they unfold in space and time, creating navigable 3D models of sites of conflict and the creation of animations and interactive cartographies on the urban or architectural scale.

Aim

These techniques allow FA to present information in a convincing, precise, and accessible manner – qualities which are crucial for the pursuit of accountability. The techniques of architectural analysis also enable us to generate new insights into the context and conduct of urban conflict. Combining these novel approaches, we have built a track record of decisive contributions to high-profile human rights investigations, providing forms of evidence that other methods cannot engage with.

We often undertake collaborative investigations with partners. In the past, these have included human rights organisations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Centro para la Acción Legal en Derechos Humanos, B’tselem, Al Mezan and Migeurop. We have also worked with international prosecutors, international offices such as the UN Special Rapporteur for Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights, and reporters from The Intercept and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

We share our work with the public via leading research and cultural institutes. Our main beneficiaries are always the victims of human rights violations, and communities in conflict zones or otherwise subject to state failure or violence.

Eyal Weizman, keynote speech on the discipline of ‘forensic architecture’, UBC Wall Institute, Vancouver, Autumn 2015 Exchange Lecture

Context

The widespread possession of cheap digital recording equipment, the development of satellite communication, the public availability of remote sensing technology and the ability to disseminate information instantaneously through the internet have made reporting on urban conflict more complex.

However, these factors have also led to the generation of enormous amounts of data that can be used as potential resources for monitoring. Available in real-time, these sources challenge the traditional evidentiary practices of human rights law and IHL, grounded in witness interviews often conducted well after the fact.

But these transformations also lead to secondary conflict, about veracity of digital content and the disputed interpretations of news and social media websites. The establishment of new forums of international jurisdiction such as the International Criminal Court mean contemporary forums have themselves become dense media environments, where screen-to-screen interaction replaces face-to-face deliberation.

The combined urbanisation and mediatisation of conflict makes FA’s pioneering work an urgent and indispensable new practice for human rights investigations. FA seeks to respond to these challenges by developing new modes of media research and new ways of presenting investigations of urban and architectural environments.

Public Work

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 our investigations]. Our work consistently generates 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. This work was undertaken with London’s Bureau for Investigative Journalism [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].

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].

In 2013, Using LIDAR scanners and ground-penetrating radar FA undertook a forensic survey of the former WW2 concentration camp of Staro Sajmište in Belgrade [see Living Death Camps].

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.

In the same year, we worked with Migeurop in relation to the death of migrants in the Mediterranean [see Left-to-Die Boat].

Francesco Sebregondi (Forensic Architecture) presenting the White Phosphorus report in the UN Office at Geneva, 12 November 2012. Photo: Forensic Architecture.

Public Reception

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).

Our impact can be seen in academic reviews [see Forensis review in Society and Space and in Radical Philosophy], mainstream media reports [see Press] and documentary films produced about our work [see Architecture of Violence].

Our staff regularly present aspects of our work at keynote lectures [see Lecture at UniSA Nelson Mandela, Lecture at Peter Wall Institute of Advanced Studies].

“Forensic Epidemiology” roundtable seminar at the Centre for Research Architecture, 8 December 2012.

 

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.