It’s rare to see architects working on security and human rights issues — but that’s exactly what’s happening right now, as a group of designers collaborate with the UN to document drone strikes in the Middle East.
Think of it as forensic architecture. In fact, that’s the name of one group behind a new report put out by the UN Special Rapporteur for Counter Terrorism and Human Rights, Ben Emmerson. The research arm of Situ Studio, a Brooklyn-based design firm, also participated in the report.
Emmerson worked with the architects to identify 30 drone strikes in countries like Pakistan and Yemen, carefully cataloguing first-person interviews, photographs and detailed structural analysis of each hit. That’s rare, in and of itself, since these sites are usually closed to outsiders (and the media).
“Studying buildings hit by drones reveal much of the consequences of a strike,” explains Eyal Weizman, the Israeli-American architect and writer whose work usually focuses on the spatial aspects of the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine. “The work that we do is essential because states undertaking drone strikes, such as the US and Israel, attempt to hide their actions and even deny them outright.”
The year-long project reached its culmination this week, as Emmerson presented the results of the project to the UN in the form of a report called The UN SRCT Drone Inquiry.
For the public, the team has built an interactive website where each drone strike can be explored in-depth: Click on any of the sites, and you’ll find videos showing the rubble, the accounts of people who lived through it, and everything that’s known about the impetus for the attack. In some cases, where video or photos aren’t available, the architects reconstructed the attacks using 3D modelling software and eye-witness accounts:
What’s the point of creating such an exacting account of operations that have long since passed? “In order to hold such governments to account we need to demonstrate the devastating reality of such attacks on civilians directly hit and on entire communities living under drones,” says Weizman.
The idea is to shine a light on operations shrouded in such secrecy, many people aren’t even aware they occur. And it’s all thanks to a collaboration between journalists on the ground and architects with the necessary knowledge to reconstruct the events they report. Check out the full Drone Inquiry here.