Reconstruction of the architecture of the building as 3D model by combining and cross-referencing photographs and videos taken in and around the hospital to locate the exact sites of the bombings and the resultant damage.Image @Forensic Architecture, 2017

16-03-2018

Can architects provide new types of evidence on war crimes and human rights violations? Dr Eyal Weizman believes they can. With the ERC backing, he developed a new field of research: forensic architecture. Dr Weizman and a multidisciplinary team of architects, software engineers, graphic designers and researchers provide architectural evidence and new perspectives on violent events and conflicts around the world.

Contemporary conflicts increasingly take place within urban areas, targeting buildings and neighbourhoods and causing a growing number of civilian casualties. Forensic architecture refers to a novel set of research techniques which analyses violations of international humanitarian law and human rights, by examining their effects on built environment.

The techniques used by Dr Weizman's team include various methods of spatial analysis, such as 3D modelling of complex situations, investigating images, video analysis, remote sensing, structural and blast engineering and oceanography. The research team has also designed a new open source platform called PATTRN that enables the advanced use of photography and satellite imaging. This digital interface has been specifically conceived to source, combine and visualise multiple forms of information into a single interactive display.

New tools for human rights investigations

"The novelty of this project is that it brings architecture, law, media and public policy together. We provide precise and accessible data that is crucial for the pursuit of accountability. In cooperation with various partner organizations, we investigated the actions of states and corporations and offered our analyses to civil society organizations, NGOs, activist groups, and prosecutors. This includes Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the UN Special Rapporteur for Counter-Terrorism. Our evidence has also been used in important investigations and court cases," explains Dr Weizman.

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Image: @Forensic Architecture and Anderson Acoustics, 2017 Photo credit portrait: @Paul Stuart for New Scientist
Simulated propagation of sound within a digital model of the internet café that was designed to mimic the exact dimensions and materials of the actual space.

Dr Weizman's team worked on many high-profile investigations of violent events around the world, from Indonesia to Syria to Germany. One such investigation was the architectural analysis of the fire that destroyed a German textile factory in Karachi, Pakistan in 2012. The inquiry was carried out on behalf of European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), who suspected that the tragedy, which led to the death of 260 workers, was caused by the inadequate fire safety measures. Analyses of the building were based on satellite and ground-level photography, witness sketches, survivor testimonies and other agencies' reports. The researchers used crowd and smoke simulations which resulted in findings that are now being used in court.

Further development of forensic architecture

The forensic architecture project is developing further, thanks to an ongoing ERC grant which will enable Dr Weizman's team to respond to new challenges, i.e. the media environments of conflict. Modern media makes reporting on urban conflict more complex. Real-time information, veracity and data overflows are part of todays defies. Dr. Weizman's team is now exploring how new modes of documentation and analysis, based on social and environmental media, have shifted the relationship between conflict and built spaces. New forensic work is to be carried out in Syria, Israel, Palestine and Amazonia (Brazil), in collaboration with leading human rights organisations.


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Forensic Architecture Team

Eyal Weizman is an architect, professor of Spatial and Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths, University of London and global professor at Princeton University. He was awarded with ERC Starting Grant in 2010 which helped him set up the Forensic Architecture research agency. ERC further supported his work with a second Consolidator Grant in 2015.