When Does Artistic Research Become Fake News? Forensic Architecture Keeps Dodging The Question

View of Lawrence Abu Hamdan’s exhibition “Earshot,” 2016, at Portikus, Frankfurt.

When the Haifa-born architect Eyal Weizman was writing his dissertation about Israeli architecture on the West Bank, one of the world’s most contested and most photographed regions, he noticed that satellite imagery showed a strange settlement shaped like a banana. If a student had suggested such a plan, he told an interviewer in 2002, he would have assumed it was a joke: the layout is laughably inefficient, both maximizing traffic and minimizing pedestrian access. Eventually Weizman, working with fellow architect Rafi Segal, realized that the plan has an implicitly political effect: it both bisects a Palestinian road and partially surrounds a Palestinian settlement.

The two men presented this and other findings in the exhibition “A Civilian Occupation: The Politics of Israeli Architecture,” Israel’s official entry to the 2002 World Congress of Architecture in Berlin. Unsurprisingly, the show was swiftly canceled by the Israel Association of United Architects, which oversees the country’s contribution. But for Weizman—who later published the book Hollow Land: Israel’s Architecture of Occupation (2007), on this and other designs he sees as instruments of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF)—the findings were formative. He has since devoted himself to using architectural analysis to investigate human rights violations committed by states worldwide.

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