Forensic Architecture

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Forensic Architecture is a multidisciplinary research group based at the University of London that uses architectural techniques and technologies to investigate cases of state violence and violations of human rights around the world. The group is led by architect Eyal Weizman.[1]

The agency develops new evidentiary techniques and undertakes advanced architectural and media research[2] with and on behalf of communities affected by state violence, and routinely works in partnership with international prosecutors, human rights organisations and political and environmental justice groups.[3]

The agency is an interdisciplinary team of investigators including architects, scholars, artists, filmmakers, software developers, investigative journalists, archaeologists, lawyers, and scientists. It undertakes investigations in human rights violations by states or corporations, on behalf of civil society groups.[4]

The group uses advanced architectural and media techniques to investigate armed conflicts and environmental destruction, as well as to cross-reference a variety of evidence sources, such as new media, remote sensing, material analysis, and witness testimony.[5][6]

Forensic architecture is also an academic field and an emergent field of practice developed at the Centre for Research Architecture, at Goldsmiths, University of London. It refers to the production and presentation of architectural evidence, relating to buildings and urban environments and their media representations.[7]


Forensic Architecture was formed in 2010 as a research project within the Centre for Research Architecture at Goldsmiths, University of London.[8] The project developed as a response to several converging phenomena, such as the urbanisation of warfare, the erosion of trust in evidence in relation to state crimes and human rights violations, the emergence and proliferation of open source media (or 'image flotsam'), the increased use of smartphone footage in documenting human rights violations in urban conflict, and the need for civil society to have its own means of evidence production for application in law, politics and advocacy.[9]

The first project undertaken by Forensic Architecture was an investigation into the killing of Bassem Abu Rahma in Bil’in, for human rights lawyer and activist Michael Sfard, which was eventually presented to the Supreme Court of Israel.[10][11]

In 2011, Forensic Architecture was awarded funding for four years by the European Research Council.[12] Also that year, a team within Forensic Architecture began to conduct investigations into the policies of European national and international authorities in relation to migration across the Mediterranean. That team, called Forensic Oceanography,[13] published its first report in 2012, investigating of the deaths of seventy-three migrants who were left drifting for two weeks within NATO’s maritime surveillance area.[14]

In 2012, Forensic Architecture presented a report to a meeting of states party to the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons on the use of airburst white phosphorus munitions in urban environments, in regard to the Israeli attacks on Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009, known as ‘Operation Cast Lead’. The report eventually led Israel to admit for the first time the use of such munitions, and later to declare that the IDF would stop using white phosphorus munitions in populated areas.[15] Also that year, the agency conducted an investigation with SITU Studio and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism titled ‘Where the Drones Strike’, on behalf of the UN Special Rapporteur on Counter Terrorism and Human Rights, Ben Emmerson.[16]

In 2013, the project was awarded a second European Research Council grant[17] to develop a multimedia data-aggregation and -visualisation platform called Pattrn. Pattrn enables its users to anonymously collate and share first-hand reports of events ‘on the ground’ and to make sense of information by combining and visualising different forms of media and information.[18] The tool was employed by Forensic Architecture in their Gaza Platform, an interactive map of attacks by Israeli forces on Gaza between 8 July and 26 August 2014, developed in partnership with Amnesty International,[19] as well as by organisations including as ACLED.

In 2015, in partnership with Amnesty International, Forensic Architecture collected and analysed mobile phone footage of hundreds of explosions in the city of Rafah, Gaza, during the city’s ‘Black Friday’ of 1 August 2014. By analysing the shape and movement of bomb clouds captured in mobile phone footage, Forensic Architecture’s researchers located and mapped hundreds of Israeli strikes on the city.[20] The investigation exposed the Israeli military directive known as the Hannibal Directive, leading to its discontinuation.[21]

In 2016, Forensic Architecture was awarded further funding by the European Research Council.[22] That year, again in partnership with Amnesty International, Forensic Architecture conducted an investigation into Syria’s Saydnaya Prison, interviewing surviving detainees who had been blindfolded or kept in darkness for most of the years they had spent in the space, and reconstructing the dimensions of the prison through a process of ‘ear witnessing’ and digital modelling.[23]

In 2017, Forensic Architecture produced a video investigation into the presence of a member of the German intelligence services at the scene of the 2006 killing by neo-Nazis of a Turkish internet cafe owner. Forensic Architecture conducted physical experiments which cast doubt on the testimony of the secret service agent.[24] The results of their video and written reports were ultimately referenced in both federal and state parliamentary inquiries in Germany, as well as the trial of the remaining NSU members in Munich.[25]

In April 2018, it was announced that Forensic Architecture were one of four nominees for the 2018 Turner Prize.[26]

In May 2018, in partnership with Bellingcat and Venezuelan journalists, Forensic Architecture collected, timed, and located nearly 70 pieces of evidence related to El Junquito raid, including videos, photographs, leaked audio of police radio communications and official statements, asking for more material to determine if rebel police officer Óscar Pérez and his companions were victims of extrajudicial killings.[27][28][29][30]

Fellows and PhD students who have been part of the Forensic Architecture programme include Susan Schuppli, John Palmesino, Lorenzo Pezzani and Charles Heller (co-founders of the Forensic Oceanography project), Lawrence Abu Hamdan,[31] Anselm Franke,[32] Ayesha Hameed, Thomas Keenan, Paulo Tavares, Francesco Sebregondi, Maayan Amir, Ariel Caine and Stefanos Levidis.


Forensic Architecture describes forensic work as operating across three spaces: the field, the laboratory, and the forum.[33] Lacking the privileges of the state’s forensic process - access to crime scenes, resources, and the power to set the rules of evidence - the agency employs ‘counter-forensics’, the process of turning the 'forensic gaze' onto the actions of the state.[34] This includes operating in multiple 'forums', or public spaces, engaging not only with parliamentary and juridical processes but also museums, art galleries, citizens’ tribunals, and the media.[35]

FA begins each case by conducting research from a range of sources, including: site visits, lidar scanning, photogrammetry and ground-penetrating radar, as well as the use of digital models to locate and synchronize source materials in space and time.

When citizens, journalists or participants in conflict record events using cameras or smartphones, they also inadvertently capture vast amounts of spatial information about the immediate environment. When a site is recorded from more than one angle the intersection provides information about depth and volume. The resultant architectural models will be the basis for locating and animating the movement of each camera/video, as well as the movement of protagonists in space.[36]

The Architecture of Memory: FA engages witnesses using models as memory aids. The memory of witnesses/victims to violent events is often obscured by the experience of extreme violence, trauma and the general confusion of war.[37] The entanglement of mediation and embodiment brings the witness back to the space and time of the incident, helping the recollection of previously forgotten details.



  1. ^ Mackey, Robert (November 24, 2014). "Video Analysis of Fatal West Bank Shooting Said to Implicate Israeli Officer". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331.
  2. ^ "MA in Research Architecture". Goldsmiths, University of London. Retrieved May 9, 2018.
  3. ^ "The Rise of Forensic Architecture". Architect Magazine. Retrieved May 9, 2018.
  4. ^ Hodges, Michael (January 25, 2016). "Forensic Architecture is unravelling conflict from Gaza to Guatemala". Wired. Retrieved April 14, 2018.
  5. ^ "Architects seek to debunk spy's testimony in neo-Nazi murder trial". The Guardian. Retrieved May 9, 2018.
  6. ^ "Kite-flying Yazidis trained to film genocide sites". The Times. Retrieved May 9, 2018.
  7. ^ "MA in Research Architecture". Goldsmiths, University of London. Retrieved May 9, 2018.
  8. ^ "Forensic Architecture: using technology to expose injustice". Architects' Journal. Retrieved May 9, 2018.
  9. ^ "Forensics Helps Widen Architecture's Mission". The New York Times. Retrieved May 9, 2018.
  10. ^ "Forensic Architecture is unravelling conflict from Gaza to Guatemala". Wired. Retrieved May 9, 2018.
  11. ^ "Escaping justice: Who killed Bassem Abu Rahme?". +972 Magazine. Retrieved May 9, 2018.
  12. ^ Retrieved May 21, 2018. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  13. ^ "Digital forensics are being used to demand justice in the Mediterranean". Alphr. Retrieved May 9, 2018.
  14. ^ "The Left To Die Boat". BBC. Retrieved May 9, 2018.
  15. ^ "Israel 'to stop using white phosphorus shells'". BBC. Retrieved May 9, 2018.
  16. ^ "Where the Drones Strike". The Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Retrieved May 9, 2018.
  17. ^ "Turning frontier research into innovation: ERC funds 33 new projects" (PDF). European Research Council. Retrieved May 9, 2018.
  18. ^ "ARCHITECTS ON THE CRIME SCENE". European Research Council. Retrieved May 9, 2018.
  19. ^ "The Gaza Platform: seeking justice for war crimes". The Independent. Retrieved May 9, 2018.
  20. ^ Moore, Rowan (February 25, 2018). "Forensic Architecture: the detail behind the devilry". The Guardian. Retrieved April 14, 2018.
  21. ^ "Israeli Military Revokes Use of Maximum Force to Foil Captures". The New York Times. Retrieved May 22, 2018.
  22. ^ Retrieved May 21, 2018. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  23. ^ Kimmelman, Michael (April 6, 2018). "Forensics Helps Widen Architecture's Mission". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331.
  24. ^ "Architects seek to debunk spy's testimony in neo-Nazi murder trial". The Guardian. Retrieved May 9, 2018.
  25. ^ "A German Intelligence Agent Was at the Scene of a Neo-Nazi Murder. He Can't Explain Why". The Intercept. Retrieved May 17, 2018.
  26. ^ "Turner prize shortlist pits research agency against film-makers". The Guardian. Retrieved May 25, 2018.
  27. ^ ""We are going to surrender! Stop shooting!": Reconstructing Óscar Pérez's Last Hours". Bellingcat Investigation Team. 13 May 2018. Retrieved 27 May 2018.
  28. ^ "Was Óscar Pérez Murdered? You Could Help Us Find Out". The New York Times. 13 May 2018. Retrieved 27 May 2018.
  29. ^ ""¡Nos vamos a entregar! ¡No sigan disparando!" RECONSTRUYENDO LAS ÚLTIMAS HORAS DE ÓSCAR PÉREZ" (in Spanish). El Pitazo. Retrieved 27 May 2018.
  30. ^ "Investigación revela lo ocurrido durante las últimas horas de Óscar Pérez" (in Spanish). Efecto Cocuyo. 13 May 2018. Retrieved 27 May 2018.
  31. ^ "Lawrence Abu Hamdan: Visualisations of echoic memories from a notorious prison..." Art Review. Retrieved May 17, 2018.
  32. ^ "Anselm Franke". Synapse: The International Curators Network. Retrieved May 10, 2018.
  33. ^ Franke, Anselm; Weizman, Eyal (March 2014). Forensis: The Architecture of Public Truth (PDF). Berlin: Sternberg Press. p. 9. ISBN 9783956790119.
  34. ^ Kimmelman, Michael (April 6, 2018). "Forensics Helps Widen Architecture's Mission". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331.
  35. ^ "The Architects Reconstructing Crime Scenes No One Else Can". Artsy (website). Retrieved May 9, 2018.
  36. ^ Weizman, Eyal (May 2017). Forensic Architecture: Violence at the Threshold of Detectability. New York: Zone Books. ISBN 9781935408864.
  37. ^ Felman, Shoshanna; Laub, Dori (1992). Testimony: Crises of Witnessing in Literature, Psychoanalysis, and History. London: Routledge. ISBN 9780415903929.
  38. ^ "Forensic Architecture: Towards an Investigative Aesthetics". e-flux. Retrieved May 9, 2018.
  39. ^ "Counter Investigations: Forensic Architecture". Retrieved 2018-09-22.
  40. ^ "Forensic Architecture — from rubble and ruins to justice". The Financial Times. Retrieved May 17, 2018.
  41. ^ "Forensic Architecture: The Detail Behind The Devilry". Architects' Journal. Retrieved May 17, 2018.

External links[edit]