When people think architecture school they think of training that teaches them how to make things: build spaces or develop sites for, primarily, human use. Over the years, this concept has expanded to encompass social activism. In the States, for example, there are programs like Architecture for Humanity, Project Row Houses, and Make It Right that address issues of poverty, displacement, and housing. Human Rights, however, extends beyond creating spaces for the economically disadvantages or impoverished. In fact, the term Human Rights often conjures up people’s rights within the context of conflict. Most people, however, do not think of architecture as encompassing the lack or destruction of structures.
Read about the Forensic Architecture program at the U. of London after the break
But studying spaces of contestation and those that have been fundamentally changed by conflict is an equally important endeavor. The intersection of Human Rights and spaces of contestation is the purview of Forensic Architecture, which is “the presentation of spatial analysis within contemporary legal and political forums.” At Goldsmiths, University of London, their Forensic Architecture program within the Department of Visual Cultures is focused on mapping, imaging and modeling “sites of violence within the framework of international humanitarian law and human rights.”
The program is headed by Eyal Weizman, Professor of Spatial and Visual Cultures, on the basic principles of the program, as well as specific projects undertaken by their program. The program itself is divided into two major investigative approaches: investigations and explorations. These are complemented by their forum, in which publications, installations, exhibitions which graphically illustrate areas of plight and conflict are highlighted. And given the cross-disciplinary nature of the program, there is opportunity to learn from experts in Forensic Oceanography, Forensic Anthropology, Economics, Politics, and of course experts in specific areas of international law.
Here is what Professor Weizman has to say about this exciting and unique program: [The program in Forensic Architecture] Is really thinking architecture legally in terms of the standards of international law. It looks at architecture as evidence… and how architectural presentations [function] in international tribunals…Imagine sometimes a model would be called in and the judge will step down to study it and would call the lawyers from both sides. And the entire legal process will start resembling something like a designing process by which different measures, different spatial configurations will be at the center of the investigation.”
Professor Weizman continues to explain what occurs in this program to advance the goals of Human Rights: “We have been involved in film production on architecture and spatial issues. We’ve also been curating. In fact a lot of the projects, of finding, in exhibition form. So curatorial practices, really are part of our research practice. Given the kind of work we do and the kind of areas we are engaged in, we are going to enter post-conflict environments, in fact, still undergoing conflict. And trying to operate on behalf and with human rights groups and international groups, mobilizing international law to seek and improve the possibility of international justice in those areas. I think that the immediate gains of the projects are not simply within academia, within a sort of aesthetic discourse of the arts, but really at the intersection, to see how architecture, to see how artistic presentation, how curatorial practice can in fact push on more precise, scientific technology that exist in courts. We hope to open this legal sensibility to other forms of presentation and representation.”
Reconstructing scenes of violence
This is important work. Some of their ongoing and past investigations include Living Death Camps, on the concentration/death camps in the former Yugoslavia, White Phosphorus, which examines the legal status of white phosphorus munitions, and Drone Strikes, on the US drone strikes in Northwest Pakistan. The explorations are analytical tools and more general examinations of methodologies, as well as exhibits. Thus we are presented with Video-to-Space Analysis, which addresses new ways to reconstruct scenes of violence using video recordings, and Earth Observation, which uses satellite images to track and expose human rights violations.
So if you have always wanted to explore architecture, as well as add your labor and voice to Human Rights work, this may be the program for you. And if so, here’s some information for you to help you get started. For undergraduate EU students, its £9,000/year, and for international students, it’s £14,200. For graduate students, the fee per year is £4,290, which appears to be the same for both EU and international students though as always, check with the office. They even offer services for accommodating students.