A/D/O by MINI | Forensic Architecture

Forensic Architecture

Eyal Weizman and his team investigate human rights cases using spatial analysis, 3D modeling and multimedia sources – receiving recognition from international law bodies and the art world.

At the center of human rights controversies, Forensic Architecture has built its agency on speaking truth to power. Taking on some of the most obscured cases, including multiple murders and ecocide, the team uses advanced spatial and media analysis to provide counter narratives. Their extensive research has led to exonerations and court hearings, and has turned the studio into a major asset for institutions ranging from The Hague’s International Court of Justice to the United Nations. Made up of an independent team of lawyers, artists, investigative journalists, videographers, scientists, and of course architects, the agency is headed by Eyal Weizman: “Our mandate is the production of knowledge and its dissemination,” he told The Journal. Through political convictions, theoretical writings, and multimedia reports, the team has invented a new mode of investigation that is as creative as it is just. 

Drone Strike in Miranshah

Although the studio doesn’t practice architecture in the traditional sense, Forensic Architecture adapts techniques such as the ability to model, reconstruct and render spaces and situations, and uses those tools to construct a method for making facts legible. The agency’s architectural roots shine through in its mapping, grounded spatial analysis, and an acute understanding of physics. Through combining those techniques with news sources, vivid video-game-like renders, and datasets, Forensic Architecture has invented a new style and methodology that is both valid in court rooms and as captivating as a suspense thriller.  

In the case, Herbicidal Warfare in Gaza, Forensic Architecture investigated the systematic ruin of Gaza farmland along the Israeli border, and the resulting loss of livelihoods and food sources for Palestinians. Through combined video footage of Israeli jets spraying herbicides, wind-flow data on those days, and fluid dynamics, Forensic Architecture proved that the herbicide spray had been pre-calculated to drift onto Gaza territory. One of the many illuminating and daring investigations the agency has conducted, their work deciphers new media to an extent that traditional investigative bodies have yet to achieve. 

Lethal Warning: The Lilling of Luai Kahil and Amir al-Nimrah

In another case, The Killing of Tahir Elçi, the team investigated the 2015 murder of a Kurdish human rights lawyer that, in a suspicious confluence of events, took place leading up to escalated violent confrontations between Turkish security forces and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. To this day, nobody has been charged, but through synchronizing disparate video sources and undertaking sonic analysis, Forensic Architecture was able to uncover where and when shots were fired. They gave their comprehensive research and meticulous additions to a local prosecutor, to instigate the continued investigation by the Turkish government. They reveal hidden evidence in a manner more sophisticated than most, maybe all, state agencies.

“A successful investigation is able to mobilize an incident, an irruptive point of singularity, where something radical happened,” said Weizman. “But [also] to read out of it the larger political issues and to be able to use the exposure of facts regarding it to initiate large political change.” Whether calling out police violence, issues of migration, land rights, or environmental violence, the team’s ability to tell a larger story is precisely why they are a threat to traditional systems of power. 

Living Death Camp: the Archaeology of Staro Sajmište

Through a single case, The Murder of Halit Yozgat, Forensic Architecture interrogated the broader system of complicity of German security services in the violence of neo-fascist group NSU. They built a 1:1 scale model of the internet cafe where Yozgat was killed to prove that a German intelligence agent, who denied implication, was not only present but witness to the murder by NSU.

This case is what Forensic Architecture defined as a microcosm of “what became known as the ‘NSU Complex’ – the structural racism and institutional blindness that ignored the situated knowledge and experience of the country’s immigrant communities, and comprehensively failed to apprehend a violent terror cell over more than a decade, leading to the deaths of ten German citizens.” The individual case affirms patterns of denial, violence, and power that are systemic.

Drone Strike in Miranshah

Weizman noted that this work comes at a great risk, as people will do desperate things to obscure truth. In order to protect their investigations and the teams of collaborators that support them, everything is not only heavily encrypted, but analogue – recorded in extensive notebooks cataloging informants and sensitive information. The goal, Weizman stated, is to keep “the spotlight” on the implicated parties and keep themselves “in the shadow.”

It would seem that as the studio has gained notoriety as a formidable team, discretion will become increasingly tentative. For now they have struck a powerful balance between protected intelligence and public-facing reports, using a mix of open-source evidence and independently generated analysis.

The Seizure of the Iuventa

While Forensic Architecture is primarily an investigative research institution, its provocative, informative, and visually pleasing work has been welcomed into the art world. They were even nominated for the prestigious Turner Prize in 2018. Weizman recognizes the benefits of being part of the art world as an alternative to the “hard edged institutions of accountability like courts or the Human Rights commission.” He said that collaborating with cultural institutions “allows us to develop new critical modes of seeing and understanding the media that we investigate and its representation in contexts that are critical and always generate debate.”

However, gallery shows are not the focus of their studio. ”At its best it facilitates a work and gives it another platform, [and] charges it with energy and ideas. At its worst it becomes a distraction.” He warned that in order for the studio to continue rigorous investigations, “we need to be aware and careful not to let ourselves be captured by this economy of the art world.” 

Torture in Saydnaya Prison

The recent project Triple Chaser for the Whitney Biennial called out the institution from inside its walls. In collaboration with filmmaker Laura Poitras and Praxis films, the movie exposed Warren Kanders, head of the Whitney Museum board of trustees and his implication in violence as the partial owner of Safariland, a manufacturer of tear gas. Over the course of the exhibit, the team investigated Kanders’ partial ownership of Sierra bullets and uncovered evidence linking him to war crimes.

“The white cube speaks back to the museum,” said Weizman, describing the power of the work. “Political art [often becomes] very tame when it is put into a museum. It is turned into curiosity. But it has the power to speak back and to actually become dangerous to the institution. That was what we were trying to do.” Along with boycotts of artists removing their pieces from the show and public protests, the proof presented in the film contributed to the pressure that led to Kander’s resignation in July 2019. Their investigation into the use of Sierra bullets and Triple Chaser tear gas in ongoing

The Destruction of Yazidi Cultural Heritage

Forensic Architecture’s unbridled commitment to the truth is a public asset. Through their theoretical texts, a course at Goldsmiths University, and application of technology, they are pioneering a new discipline that will only grow in demand. Weizman is acutely aware that one of the strengths of the studio is the small team of passionate people who can do a thorough creative job. “We don't want to become mainstream,” he said, and to do so would risk their political convictions. Unfortunately there are no shortage of human rights violations and they will have to continue to make choices about which conflicts to investigate.

Text by Lily Saporta Tagiuri.

Images courtesy of Forensic Architecture.