Forensic Architecture and the Legitimacy of Digital Work as True Architecture

Forensic architecture may refer to a number of similar vocations within architecture, each with comparable goals but distinct methods. Before modern digital architecture, a forensic architect assessed buildings to investigate the cause of problems and assign fault to either the original architect, client, or builder [1]. Their task was to visit the site in person and utilize a number of tools at their disposal to make observations and collect information. Like any other investigator, the forensic architect would have to work with limited information and make deductions that depend on the extent of their knowledge and experience in their field. The architect’s full comprehension of the whole picture and all of its problems would directly correspond to their level of understanding in materials, systems, design, construction, and contracts [1]. While anyone could potentially learn to use the tools they carry, and the tools are sometimes also in an engineer’s or builder’s arsenal, the work lends itself to requiring a good architect to make a good assessment.

With the modern blending of the digital and architectural world, the term forensic-architecture today more commonly refers to architectural recreation work using data, visuals, and evidence in a digital medium. Just like the investigators of old, a forensic architect searches for information and clues that may not be obvious at first, to seek a truth. In many cases the truth they seek is form, in an attempt to recreate a building or space that has been lost to time. Traditional architecture concerns itself with the existing or sufficiently documented demolished and unbuilt, rarely covering forgotten works. Unlike traditional designers, forensic architecture concerns itself less with creating something new, and instead is deeply invested in the understanding of design for the recreation of missing architecture in the best possible detail. Additionally, this section of architecture steps even further away from tradition with it typically primary use of three-dimensional digital environments.

A London-based firm aptly called Forensic Architecture has made a practice of searching for truth not in form or design, but in real modern events that are violent and divisive in nature. They investigate human rights violations carried out by police, state, and military forces by digitally recreating the circumstances using footage, witness accounts and documentation [2]. The analysis they perform delves less into an obscure built form and more in the obscurity of events within and around built forms. Studio FA’s architects use their ability within three-dimensional modelling software commonly used in other fields of architecture, to reproduce the scene of the crimes in the clearest and most detailed extent possible. This way all possible moments before, during, and after can be analyzed to compare and question official rulings. As one would expect from a company involved in probing every aspect of these events, Studio FA also employs software developers, filmmakers, investigative journalists, artists, scientists, and lawyers in its efforts [2]. Despite the range of vocations employed within the firm, the firm maintains itself as an architecture and human rights investigating hybrid-organisation with architecture at the core of its mission [3].

Forensic Architecture helps widen architecture’s mission.
Sourced from FORENSIC ARCHITECTURE, 2006 Murder of Halit Yozgat.

Studios like Forensic Architecture show that modern architecture is very much an amalgamation of various professions and highlights the developing marriage between technology and architecture. Additionally, it shows that architectural firms are broadening their scopes and becoming increasingly less exclusive to architects and traditional architecture. Modern architecture is often not just about creating new architecture and is regularly the historical, commercial, political, or ecological application of it instead. One could argue that forensic architecture and a firm like Studio FA is not truly architectural and that its architects could be replaced by anyone well-versed in the software utilized. The same has been said ad nauseam about architectural visualisation, especially evident in its frequent outsourcing to non-architectural companies. While studios like Forensic Architecture employ a diverse range of professions, it is still ultimately vital to use architects in work that is inherently architectural. Prowess in digital operations alone can never replace the combined knowledge and experience of an architect, and in doing so something valuable is potentially lost in the end product. Furthermore, the success of studios like Forensic Architecture dispels the objections traditional architects have towards digital architecture as a whole and architectural visualisation by association, as a legitimate section of architecture. The broadening of modern-day architecture is a natural evolution brought on by new technology and changing demands across a multitude of industries. It may be vital for architects to find new applications for their expertise as previous traditional design roles in the creation of buildings and spaces remain uncertain and everchanging.









[1] “Why hire forensic architects?” Stephen W. Buck, The Construction Specifier,

[2] “Forensic Architecture Agency,” Alan Woo, Forensic Architecture,

[3] “The Rise of Forensic Architecture,” Andrew Curry, Architect Magazine,

“Detective Architects: A Look into Forensic Architecture’s Interdisciplinary Analysis of Crime Scenes,” Eyal Weizman, Arch Daily,

All images sourced from FORENSIC ARCHITECTURE.