Architecture and Human Rights
Submitting InstitutionGoldsmiths' College
Unit of AssessmentArt and Design: History, Practice and Theory
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Medical and Health Sciences: Public Health and Health Services
Studies In Human Society: Political Science
Philosophy and Religious Studies: Other Philosophy and Religious Studies
Summary of the impact
Eyal Weizman's decade-long programme of research into the relation
between architecture and conflict has been formative to the establishment
of the new field of "Forensic Architecture". His research-based books have
been the basis for his production of influential human rights reports,
several of which have been presented as evidence in international trials
and/or have informed policies relating to the Israel/Palestinian conflict.
Appointed as the director of the Centre for Research Architecture at
Goldsmiths in 2005, in 2011 he was awarded ERC funding of €1.2M for a
project [Forensic Architecture] on the place of architecture in
international humanitarian law: this has generated spatial evidence
crucial to legal issues concerning the conflicts in areas of the world
including Palestine, Guatemala, Pakistan and the Yemen. His extensive
collaboration with international human rights organisations and the UN
have meant that his work has achieved very wide reach. His work reached
multiple audiences through numerous public lectures and media
presentations as well as extensive exhibitions in leading cultural and
architectural institutions worldwide.
Eyal Weizman, an architect by professional background, is Professor of
Spatial and Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths. He took up this full-time
appointment in September 2005, when he also founded and became Director of
the College's Centre for Research Architecture. His architectural and
spatial research focuses on political and human rights issues associated
with armed conflict. Prior to joining Goldsmiths, he had co-published a
research-based report (Land Grab, 2002) in
association with the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem, which for the
first time demonstrated violations of human rights and international
humanitarian law (IHL) through the transformation of the built
environment. His team's analysis and synthesis of a large number of
drawings, plans and other geographic data gathered through site visits and
flyovers, illustrated how transformation of the built environment in the
occupied Palestinian territories translated into the violation of human
rights and IHL. This pioneering research generated a map made public in
May 2002which has become one of the key tools for advocacy on Palestinian
rights issues and is still used as a key reference in political and legal
processes, and as the basis for most further maps of the Occupied
Following his appointment at Goldsmiths he extended his analyses of
territorial occupation in geographical, territorial, urban and
architectural terms. This work was articulated in his 2007 book Hollow
Land: Israel's Architecture of Occupation,
which received highly positive reviews in both academic and professional
arenas and has become one of the main references in the field of conflict
studies and architecture. Thus for example the Financial Times said: "Hollow
Land is more like an extraordinary new drawing than a conventional piece
of architectural literature. It is a document that allows you to see a
physical landscape overlaid with politics, sociology, religion and
history, as if one were using architectural x-ray specs. It posits the
contemporary urban warzone with its cocktail of violence, media,
politics and extremism as the ultimate postmodern environment. It is
also the most astonishing book on architecture that I have read in years
... Weizman has achieved a rare amalgam of politics, aesthetics,
sociology, history and theory. He has produced a book which should be
compulsory reading for anyone who thinks architecture has reduced its
cultural role to the building of iconic galleries and silly skyscrapers.
Rather, as Weizman shows, it remains the most politicised and
potentially dangerous of all the arts."
In 2011 Weizman was awarded a four-year ERC starting grant of €1.2
million for Forensic Architecture: The Place of Law in War,
to map, image, and model sites of violence within the framework of
international humanitarian law and human rights. The new field of `forensic
architecture' refers to the presentation of spatial analysis within
contemporary legal and political fora, and provides crucial spatial
analysis for organisations promoting IHL and human rights. Weizman has
assembled a multidisciplinary team of specialised researchers capable of
producing architectural examinations of sites of violence using cutting
edge technologies. Research methods include site visits, the use and
analysis of satellite imagery, ground penetrating radar, GPS data,
photography, and the spatial synthesis of eyewitness interviews.
The project is already yielding spatial evidence and technical reports
informing international legal processes in relation to events in Libya,
Gaza, Guatemala, the Mediterranean Sea, the former Yugoslavia, Pakistan,
Yemen and elsewhere. To date, for example, the research has identified
human rights abuses in the Guatemalan Civil War; and researchers
supervised by Weizman have produced a path-breaking analysis of the high
profile "left to die boat" case in which North
African refugees fleeing across the Mediterranean perished.
Weizman has published findings emanating from this project in the books Mengele's
Skull (2012) which sets out the complexities
associated with forensic testimony in relation to war crimes and crimes
against humanity and has been translated into Hebrew and Serbo-Croat; Forensic
Architecture: Notes from Fields and Forums (2012),
a notebook presenting a philosophical and cultural-critical examination of
forensic practices; and The Least of all Possible Evils: Humanitarian
Violence from Arendt to Gaza, an exploration of
the philosophy underpinning Western humanitarian intervention which shows
how military and political intervention acquired a new "humanitarian"
acceptability and legality in the late 20th and 21st
centuries. These publications have set out the theoretical grounding of
forensic architecture and disseminated its findings to many other fields,
as reflected in numerous reviews in academic and policy publications.
References to the research
The international standing of this research is evidenced by the
critical acclaim it has received (see e.g. references 3 and 8 below).
Reference 6, 7, 8 are all submitted as REF outputs, with details
available in REF 2b.
1. Lein Y, Weizman E (2002) Land Grab: Israel's Settlement Policy in
the West Bank, Jerusalem: B'Tselem. Available here.
[human rights report]
A sample of one of the subsequent maps based on this map: here.
3. Weizman E (2007) Hollow Land: Israel's Architecture of Occupation,
London: Verso. The international standing of this research output is
evidenced by the large number of positive reviews it received; a
compilation is available at http://roundtable.kein.org/node/655.
It was submitted as an output in RAE2008. [monograph]
4. Forensic Architecture: The Place of Law in War, ERC Starting Grant,
€1.2M [Grant No. 263671, 01/02/11. Details at: http://www.forensic-architecture.org
7. Weizman E (2012) Forensic Architecture: Notes from Fields and Forums. dOCUMENTA 13
Notebook. Hatje Cantz. [short book in English and German]
REF output relating to Forensic Architecture and including this
publication is submitted as a REF output; details available in REF 2b]
Details of the impact
Weizman's analyses are widely cited in political and human rights
contexts. Data for the original map was available online (see reference 2
above) and spurred the creation of a plethora of maps custom- made by
advocacy groups, NGOs and human rights organisations. Weizman's research
is referred to by almost all studies on planning and human rights in
Hollow Land has been extremely influential among those engaging
with the politics of architecture and has been widely reviewed in the
mainstream press, and in special documentary programmes in Israel, Germany
and the Netherlands. The `Mengele's Skull'
project was disseminated to a wider public through an exhibition in the
Portikus Gallery in Frankfurt in 2012 and in an article in a special issue
of Cabinet Magazine on Forensics, edited by Eyal Weizman;
this quarterly arts and culture journal is intended as a sourcebook of
ideas for an eclectic international audience of readers, from artists and
designers to scientists, philosophers, and historians. Weizman is
currently working with Al Jazeera English on a 30 minute documentary about
forensic architecture, to be aired in March 2014.
The research has been drawn upon in various legal processes including the
2004 International Court of Justice ruling on the "separation fence", and
in UN statements including the 2013 UN HRC Fact Finding Mission on the
settlements. Weizman's expertise was reflected in his
invitation to advise the Palestinian Ministry of Planning in Ramallah on
the reuse of the evacuated settlements in the occupied territories.
Findings and reports from the Forensic Architecture project have focused
media attention on human rights violations, and have influenced political
and legal responses to them. For example:
Death of Bassem Ibrahim Abu Rahma (17/04/09):
the research team examined the events which led to this protester being
struck and killed by a tear gas grenade in Bi'lin, Palestine. The report
led to the opening of a special military investigation of this case, and
the trial of one of the perpetrators. The case was reported in one of
Israel's main TV channels
Use of drones in counter-terrorism: On
24/01/13, the UN Special Rapporteur on Counter Terrorism and HR launched
an inquiry into the civilian impact and human rights implications of
drone use and invited input from the Forensic Architecture team. The
resulting research has been reviewed in several media outlets and was
presented to the UN General Assembly in October 2013.
Use of airburst white phosphorus munitions in densely populated
areas: With Human Rights Watch [HRW],
Weizman's team researched the use of white phosphorus chemical weapons
by the Israel Defence Forces and the US military. In November 2012 the
findings were presented to the Human Rights council in Geneva, in the
context of a HRW event on incendiary weapons during the meeting of the
Convention on Conventional Weapons States Parties. The Forensic
Architecture report formed part of a petition to Israel's High Court of
Justice calling for the prohibition of the use of these munitions in
urban environments. The case was won.
Weizman has delivered many keynote speeches, memorial lectures, and
special addresses outside the academic context. These have included the
4th Nelson Mandela Lecture in 2012 "Walls and wars, rights and ruins:
The revelations of forensic architecture" at the Bob Hawke Prime
Ministerial Centre in Adelaide, Australia, to an audience of lawmakers,
politicians, academics and the general public.
Subsequent to that, he met and advised policy makers in Australia on
issues of space and human rights.
More generally, his work has created a `spatial turn' in the approach to
human rights violations around the world, spurring the production and
distribution of maps by a range of political groups, NGOs and human rights
It has been similarly influential in the context of architecture and art,
with his work featuring in exhibitions around the world. His early
research on the occupied territories led to exhibitions at the Storefront
Gallery for Art and Architecture in New York and a major exhibition
preceding the present REF period, in 2003 [Territories, at Berlin's
KW Institute for Contemporary Arts] which was later shown in Rotterdam,
Berkley, Malmö, Tel Aviv and Ramallah, accompanied by lectures to
specialist and general audiences. Since 2008 it has been shown in the
Bozar Expo in Brussels, NGBK in Berlin, the Istanbul Biennial, Home Works
in Beirut, Tate Modern in London, the Oslo Triennial, Nottingham
Contemporary, the James Gallery at CUNY, the Tate gallery in London, The
Sharjah Biennale, the Centre Pompidou in Paris and many other places.
These exhibitions have shaped the debate on the use of architectural
analysis in human rights, and have had a significant impact in the fields
of architecture, art and human rights, as evidenced by his award of the
2010 Prince Claus Prize for Architecture and the
selection of his work by Art Forum as one of the `top ten cultural
projects of the decade'.
Major exhibitions of the forensic architecture research are planned for
the House of World Culture (HKW) in Berlin, Portikus Gallery in Frankfurt
and Le Bal in Paris. In June 2013 Weizman signed an agreement with HKW to
present the research in a major exhibition with funding of €450K from the
Cultural Fund). These exhibitions testify to the cross-disciplinary
reach of his work which links, innovatively and fundamentally, the fields
of human rights, architecture, and art.
Sources to corroborate the impact
Citations of Weizman's research in other reports on human rights
issues in the occupied territories are available here
or on request from Goldsmiths Research Office.
For an example see here.
Reviews of Hollow Land: Full list available here,
and references to the book are available here,
Skull: also see here.
- UN HRC Fact Finding Mission (2013): report.
Advisory role to the Palestinian Ministry of Planning is
reported in Chapter 8, pp.221-236, in Weizman, Hollow Land. (see
reference 3 in section 3 above).
The case of Bassem Ibrahim Abu Rahma: here
and (TV report) here.
- Drone use in counter-terrorism: here
(watch from minute 30)
- White phosphorus report: here
- Nelson Mandela Lecture
Legal judgements and reports citing Weizman's work: available
on request from Goldsmiths Research Office.
Maps produced by other organisations: Examples of these are
available on request from Goldsmiths Research Office, and can also be
seen here and here.
Details of these post-2008 exhibitions: Available on request
from Goldsmiths Research Office. Examples can be see here
- Prince Claus Prize (2010): here.
- Art Forum article
- Forensic Architecture exhibitions: details are here.