The term Forensics is defined as “the study or science of solving crimes by using scientific knowledge or methods”. Once combined with architecture, it results in the search for truth using architectural tools to synthesize evidence.

What is Forensic Architecture? 

The terminology “forensic architecture” may have only surfaced in the last decade, but the foundation of the work has been present since the test of time, since law existed, starting with Leonardo da Vinci’s analysis of building cracks, to architects and surveyors using the cracks in buildings to determine their state. In some historical cases, architectural models were even used in court as evidence.

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Cracks in buildings_©www.horseen.com/index/solution/content/id/1179?page=10

Forensic Architecture is a research agency and spatial investigation group founded in 2010 based in Goldsmith University in London. Its mission is to widen the use of architecture by looking into crime scenes and reconstructing the scenes to produce 3d models as evidence that can be used in a court of law. Why buildings, you may ask? Because when conflict occurs, it’s mostly in urban areas, and buildings are usually the target.

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Forensic Architectures’ reconstruction of a drone strike in Miranshah, Pakistan_©www.architectmagazine.com/design/culture/the-rise-of-forensic-architecture

To undertake such a political edge in architecture, the team is made up of architects, scholars, filmmakers, designers, lawyers, scientists, archaeologists, and psychologists, all of whom wouldn’t be able to proceed further without the support and collaboration of Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch. This group takes on the roles of an architect by combining their spatial and engineering skills, a librarian by their ability to gather data, a journalist by their detective skills, and a screenwriter by their storytelling skills.

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Sketch made by a survivor of a drone strike in Mir Ali, Pakistan_©www.architectmagazine.com/design/culture/the-rise-of-forensic-architecture

Mr. Eyal Weizman, the founder of forensic architecture, took notice of how architecture was complacent to human rights violations and decided to use technology in the time of parametric design to create an agency that could document those violations across global conflicts. The examination of material leftovers found in site destructions, such as debris patterns from drone strikes, combined with the use of computer programs and digital animation software, allows for the put-together pieces of bombed-out ruins

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Use of photographs and videos primarily from social media to create a 3D model reconstructing one of the heaviest days of bombardment in the 2014 Israel-Gaza war_©Forensic Architecture

As humans, we all have a social, moral obligation to contribute to bettering society; as architects, we have the tools required to take architecture a step further and explore other architectural solutions that are not only directed at design solutions.

Forensic Architecture takes a different approach to justice

The approach taken by forensic architecture to achieve a final architectural model that is evidence-based isn’t one that comes without its challenges. The team believes their work is more counter forensic than forensic because, with forensic practices, the data is easily accessible at the scene for them to produce evidence, whereas in the case of forensic architecture, they are faced with many more limitations and protocols.

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Images collected to cross-reference space and time_©Forensic Architecture

When a crime occurs, officials that are usually part of the state create a perimeter and close off the area with barricade tapes, meaning what takes place within is only knowledge to state officials and not for public knowledge. To gather data, the team at forensic architecture uses different measures that they do have access to and permits them to create a narrative, such as the testimony of witnesses, images, and video clips taken at the scene of the crime. However, composing the story with all the materials collected still isn’t sufficient enough in terms of clarity. It is where study of meteorology comes in; through the analysis of the clouds, they can pinpoint the time and location in space and cross-reference it with satellite imagery. Once the image is matched with the model, a timeline is created.

In some cases, the physical and visual data is simply non-existent. What happens then? How do they gather facts when even reporting organizations aren’t allowed into the scene?

Case Study of Saydnaya Prison:

The Saydnaya prison is a high-profile Syrian detention center operating as a black site, well recognized by different human rights groups for torture and executions. Since access to the site was impossible, forensic architecture partnered with Amnesty International investigators to be able to construct a 3D model and generate evidence that could be used in court and would otherwise not be obtainable.

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Saydnaya Prison Satellite image _©Amnesty International
Digitally reconstructed prison _©Forensic Architecture

For the Saydnaya prison, with the aid of Amnesty International, forensic architecture was able to work with traumatized survivors and create an entirely new methodology that evolved through a feedback loop. The 3D model was built in basic form from satellite imagery and could now place the survivors in a safe environment where they were able to tap into their repressed memory to help describe the scene. Having entered the facility blindfolded, they used their memory of human senses: smell, touch, hearing, taste, and actions of traumatic events that took place; the different sound properties and reverberations, once matched with the witness’s memory, allowed forensic architecture to figure out what materials were used, what kind of resonance existed in the space resulting in a could approximate the interior spaces and distances. The tiniest detail recalled from memory that one would think is irrelevant helped shape together with the entire model of the Saydnaya Prison.

Truth through architecture

The discipline of architecture can take on various forms, but it is the one medium that offers an obscene amount of depth in all aspects. It can give the opportunity to promote change and take on a larger attempt for justice.

“Forensic architecture is a system of knowledge, a way of interrogating the world through spatial materialization that can bring a unique perspective to bear upon our readings of politics and history.”– Eyal Weizman.

References:

  1. Kimmelman, Michael Kimmelman. “Forensics Helps Widen Architecture’s Mission.” The New York Times,
  2. 6 Apr. 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/04/06/arts/design/forensic-architecture-human-rights.html.
  3. “Searching for Truth | Eyal Weizman.” Www.youtube.com, www.youtube.com/watch?v=J2Cl9TVkK0U. Accessed 10 Apr. 2022.
  4. Entertainment, The Magazine for Architectural. “FORENSIC ARCHITECTURE: AN INTERVIEW with EYAL WEIZMAN.” Pinupmagazine.org, Andrew Ayers, pinupmagazine.org/articles/forensic-architecture-an-interview-with-eyal-weizman.
  5. “Syria: Secret Campaign of Mass Hangings and Extermination at Saydnaya Prison.” Amnesty International, 7 Feb. 2017, www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2017/02/syria-investigation-uncovers-governments-secret-campaign-of-mass-hangings-and-extermination-at-saydnaya-prison/.
  6. House, Manchester International Festival Blackfriars. “Cloud Studies – Forensic Architecture.” Manchester International Festival, mif.co.uk/about/press/press-media-library/MIF21-media-library/cloud-studies-forensic-architecture/. Accessed 10 Apr. 2022.
  7. Weizman, Eyal. “Eyal Weizman: Forensic Architecture / Radical Philosophy.” Radical Philosophy, Nov. 2010, www.radicalphilosophy.com/article/forensic-architecture.
  8. “The Rise of Forensic Architecture.” Architectmagazine.com, Andrew Curry, 2022, www.architectmagazine.com/design/culture/the-rise-of-forensic-architecture_o.
Author

An architectural masters graduate with a passion for design and writing. She holds a strong attitude to overcome obstacles combined with an optimistic character used to bring value to whatever project she is working on. She is organized, motivated, self-confident and success oriented.

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