Forensic Architecture

A team of architects and researchers are using their skills to investigate acts of war perpetrated on urban environments.

Using video and still images of missile bombardment shot by civilians, the Forensic Architecture project based at Goldsmiths at the University of London, build 3D renderings which show a ‘real time record of what is happening’.

Israeli born architect Eyal Weizman, who founded the research team explains in this video how architecture can be used to provide a particular record of conflict which takes place in cities. As most civilians are injured or die in buildings, analysing the destruction of those buildings through real time footage and creating an architectural model of space and time becomes a political project which can record and identify potential violations of international rules of engagement.

The Forensic Architecture team have worked with Amnesty International to create a 3D model of ‘Operation Protective Edge’, which was launched on Gaza by Israel on 8th July 2014, in response to rocket attacks. The report’s executive summary describes how information was gathered and built into a story;

‘The report recounts events by connecting various forms of information including: testimonies from victims and witnesses including medics, journalists, and human rights defenders in Rafah; reports by human rights and other organizations; news and media feeds, public statements and other information from Israeli and Palestinian official sources; and videos and photographs collected on the ground and from the media. Amnesty International and Forensic Architecture worked with a number of field researchers and photographers who documented sites where incidents took place using protocols for forensic photography. Forensic Architecture located elements of witness testimonies in space and time and plotted the movement of witnesses through a three-dimensional model of urban spaces. It also modelled and animated the testimony of several witnesses, combining spatial information obtained from separate testimonies and other sources in order to reconstruct incidents.’

This video (scroll down) shows how eyewitness footage is painstakingly verified and then overlaid on the base model of the city, to recreate a single strike on Rafah on the 1st August 2014. Footage is captured of falling missiles a fraction of a second before they strike, and by measuring the size of the resultant craters shown on satellite footage in the days after the event the team claim to be able to determine the size and origin of the weaponry used (in this case U.S made one ton bombs), and it’s immediate impact on civilians in the area.

In an interview with Ellie Violet Bramley of The Guardian last year Weizman outlined an agenda for architecture as a campaigning method, but his way of working could equally be interpreted as using architecture to support investigative journalism;

“Cities are always about the links between buildings in the street, networks, infrastructure. When war happens in the city, people die in buildings, the majority in their own homes,” Weizman tells me. By carefully examining those buildings, you can find architectural evidence. If the Gaza conflict were ever to make it to the International Criminal Court, Weizman supposes he’d work with the prosecution: “We would show where there’s a violation of international law in the way in which buildings are attacked.” In this way, architects could play a role in reconstructing and therefore resisting violence.’