A London-based research agency is using architectural evidence to unmask and expose serious crimes, acts of violence and human rights violations, especially in conflict zones.
Forensic Architecture (FA) is the eponymously-named research agency that is based at Goldsmiths, University of London, and led by British-Israeli architect Eyal Weizman.
Forensic architecture is an emerging academic field developed at Goldsmiths, and refers to architectural evidence derived from buildings and urban environments and analysed using specific techniques to generate new insights into the context of the conflict or crime.
Urban conflict zones, according to FA, are ‘dense data and media environments’ with most crimes caught on camera, transmitted almost in real-time and disseminated instantly in the farthest corners of the world.
While the veracity of this digital content can be doubted, FA’s methodologies ensure the information can be analysed, investigated, verified and presented precisely and convincingly using 3D models of the crime or conflict site as well as animations and interactive cartographies.
FA’s work places them in direct conflict with security and intelligence agencies as well as Governments worldwide since the research agency’s techniques try to uncover the real truth behind the official account of an incident.
The firm collaborates with human rights organisations, UN agencies, journalists and lawyers, working on the side of civil society to uncover the truth based on architectural and media evidence.
Choosing to call their field counter-forensics rather than forensics, FA focuses on revealing what’s not visible in an image-intensive environment.
Forensic Architecture’s work on several landmark cases has produced compelling outcomes, even contributing to court verdicts and also changing lives and policy.
For instance, the heavy bombardment on 1 August 2014 by Israel in Rafah city located in the Gaza Strip took about a year to reconstruct but FA’s research led to a review of the Hannibal Directive, which allowed Israeli soldiers to be killed by their own army if they were taken prisoner.
By proving that Israel’s continuous bombing of Rafah was aimed at killing the captured Israeli soldier regardless of the collateral damage on the civilian population, the agency was able to bring the directive under the spotlight.
Another case involved the murder of a young Turkish-German in an internet cafe in Kassel, Germany by a neo-Nazi. An intelligence officer who was incidentally in a back room of the cafe, claimed that he hadn’t heard or noticed the killing in the next room. In the absence of any other evidence, his story couldn’t be contradicted.
However, Forensic Architecture investigated the incident, creating a full-scale mock-up of the cafe interior, and analysing the sound of the two gunshots, smoke dispersal pattern and the agent’s sightlines. FA was able to prove that the tall agent couldn’t have failed to hear the shots, smell the smoke and see the dead victim sprawled behind the counter.
Though Weizman began his career as a regular architect in Tel Aviv, his interest in forensic architecture was triggered when he took up doctorate studies in how architecture and town planning in Israel’s occupied territories were causing human rights violations.
Weizman views Forensic’s work as a unique way to practise architecture, with the agency occasionally collaborating with experts from other fields. In addition to architects, the FA team includes an investigative journalist, a computer programmer, a filmmaker and a preservationist.