Introduced: Eyal Weizman

December 2020

Eyal Weizman is the founding director of Forensic Architecture and Professor of Spatial and Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is a member of the Technology Advisory Board of the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Eyal Weizman
David Ausserhofer / Robert Bosch Academy

What are you working on as Fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy?

I want to use my fellowship to establish a new investigative human-rights collective based in Berlin. This entails developing the concepts and ideas that would enable it to operate. The collective will be an association called Forensis: a media and architecture investigative unit that will work together with German investigative journalists (e.g. from the weekly Der Spiegel), with NGOs such as the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), and with cultural institutions such as the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin. Together, they would launch hard-hitting visual investigations into state and corporate crime. It’s based on what we've developed in the UK in terms of forensic architecture. I’d like to bring this to Germany.

Given Germany’s politically minded civil society, institutions, social movements, and scientists, I think it would work well here. I want to engage together with them in the challenges that German society currently faces: the violation of migrant rights, the resurgence of fascist tendencies, digital security, and surveillance.

What is forensic architecture?

It refers to the production and presentation of architectural evidence – relating to buildings, urban environments – in legal and political processes.

Forensic architecture takes architecture in terms of spatial modeling as an entry point to unpack complex events, such as police violence and urban warfare. We collect open source evidence like videos, usually from the Internet, of the people who experienced and participated in those violations firsthand. By modeling them in 3D, we add clarity and provide a new type of evidence that has already had impact. The New York Times, Washington Post, and BBC are now using some of our techniques. Indeed, human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch use them, too.

Furthermore, forensic architecture is helping transform the legal practice because it involves introducing digital, image-based evidence into legal contexts. I’m on the technology advisory board of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, which is now accepting new types of evidence. Think of forensic architecture as a counter forensic agency. Forensics itself – scientific tests or techniques used in connection with the detection of crime – is a field belonging to the state. It belongs to police departments and secret services, like Germany’s domestic intelligence service, the Verfassungsschutz. We investigate the investigators: police, military, and secret services.

How did you come up with the idea of connecting architecture with structural violence and human rights?

Perhaps filmmakers and artists are the most suitable people to evaluate the most common evidence for violations worldwide today – namely the videos produced by the people who experience violence firsthand. When violence happens in cities, buildings, and neighborhoods, architecture is the right frame for analysis.

I believe that we need a wide network of diverse practitioners. In our team, we have lawyers and scientists, filmmakers and artists, all working together on the multiple dimensions of violence. Over the years, we have presented this evidence in national and international courts, truth commissions, and human rights reports. In some of the cases, this led to important victories.

Why did you accept the Robert Bosch Academy fellowship?

When you want to start an initiative in Germany as ambitious as this, there's no better partner and no better framework to develop it than at the Robert Bosch Academy. The Academy has the power to engage diverse civil society organizations; it has access to decision-makers of real influence. It can connect you to the right people and the most important players in the field.

What makes Berlin and Germany relevant for your work?

Berlin now, I believe, is where the future of Europe is being decided. Not only politically, but culturally, too. It's a place where East meets West. It's a city where migrant communities are asserting themselves politically within the cultural and political landscape. It's also a place of great experiments in democracy and journalism. But it’s also a city where the pushback is particularly hard with violations of the rights of migrants and other people that are not perceived part of an “organic German society”. I believe that right now in Berlin we are seeing a kind of struggle over our identity as Europeans. And, of course, to intervene in it decisively, one needs to be where that struggle is taking place.

What do you like about Berlin and what is your most favorite spot?

There are parts of Kreuzberg that I'm crazy about. Some parts of Neukölln are very improvised and interesting, too, where an edgy kind of cultural and nightlife scene takes place. But I'm an oldie. When I first arrived in Berlin in the 1990s, I lived in the Prenzlauer Berg area, so I still have favorite spots there. I just love walking through Berlin; I can walk from north to south. Also, for me being in Berlin is being as close as possible to the Middle East where I grew up. As an Israeli Jew, living among Syrians, Lebanese and Palestinians feels like the real Middle East where I would love to be and where we could live more or less with equality and without hierarchy, power, and privileges.

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