Forensic Architecture (FA) is a research agency based at Goldsmiths, University of London, consisting of architects, artists, filmmakers, journalist, software developers, scientists, lawyers, and an extended network of collaborators from a wide variety of fields and disciplines. Founded in 2010 by Prof. Eyal Weizman, FA is committed to the development and dissemination of new evidentiary techniques and undertakes advanced architectural and media investigations on behalf of international prosecutors, human rights and civil society groups, as well as political and environmental justice organisations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, B’tselem, Bureau of Investigative Journalism, and the UN, among others.
‘Forensic architecture’ is also an emergent academic field that refers to the production and presentation of architectural evidence in legal forums, including courts, and for advocacy purposes. Both ‘forensics’ and ‘architecture’ refer to well-established disciplinary frames; brought together, they shift each other’s meaning, giving rise to a different mode of practice. While architecture turns the attention of forensics to buildings, details, cities, and landscapes, and adds an essential method of investigation, forensics turns architecture into an investigative practice, and demands that architects pay close attention to the materiality of the built environment and its representation through data and media.
The necessity for Forensic Architecture as a practice emerges from the fact that contemporary conflicts increasingly take place within urban areas where homes and neighbourhoods become targets and most civilian casualties occur within cities and buildings. Crucial evidence is now generated on an unprecedented scale by both civilians and participants in conflict and shared widely across social and mainstream platforms.
While such developments have contributed to the complexity of forms of conflict and control, they have also enabled new means of monitoring. As urban battlefields become ever denser and more complex data and media environments, FA believes that human rights analysis must fully engage with the challenges of new media and the participatory, citizen-generated, and open-source evidence generated therein.
Grounded in the use of architecture as a methodological and analytic device, with which to investigate armed conflicts, environmental destruction and other political struggles, Forensic Architecture’s new forms of investigations cross-reference multiple evidence sources by employing spatial and material analysis, remote sensing, mapping and reconstruction, and extend outwards to overlay elements of witness testimony and the cumulative forms of visual documentation enabled by contemporary media.
Tools and techniques developed by FA for analysing and presenting state and corporate violations of human rights across the globe involve modelling dynamic events as they unfold in space and time by creating navigable 3D models, filmic animations of environments undergoing conflict, and conceiving of interactive cartographies on the urban or architectural scale. The agency also develops open source software that facilitates collective research together with victim groups and stake holders.
The beneficiaries of FA’s research are the victims of human rights violations, communities at risk in conflict zones, their representatives or organizations advocating or prosecuting on their behalf. FA presents their evidence in written, video, and/or interactive form to convey complex human rights violations in a convincing, precise, and accessible manner, crucial for the pursuit of accountability.
In recent years, Forensic Architecture has undertaken, together with and on behalf of the victims, a series of investigations internationally into state crimes and human rights violations, spanning events from war crimes to instances of politically and racially motivated violence to the lethal effects of the EU’s policies of non-assistance for migrants in the Mediterranean. These investigations have led to the contestation of accounts of events given by state authorities, affecting legal and human rights processes, giving rise to citizen tribunals and truth commissions, military, parliamentary and UN inquiries. Through these forums, this analysis has provided unique and decisive evidence about incidents with which other methods could not have engaged.
Through their detailed and critical investigations, Forensic Architecture presents how public truth is produced – technologically, architecturally, and aesthetically – and how it can be used to confront authority and to expose new forms of state-led violence.
Responded by Kaiho Yu