Forensic Investigations of Designed Destructions in 2014 Rafah, Gaza

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Podcast transcripts published in The Funambulist 11 (May-June 2017) Designed Destructions. Click here to access the rest of the issue.

The editorial line of The Funambulist owes a lot to the work that Eyal Weizman has been undertaking since 2003 in the novel approach to architecture that it has been allowing through books such as Hollow Land: Israel’s Architecture of Occupation (2007), The Least of All Possible Evils (2011) or The Conflict Shoreline (2015, in collaboration with Fazal Sheikh). It seemed therefore only fair that this conversation with Weizman recorded in London on February 22, 2017 is fully transcribed on eight pages here. In 2013, he founded Forensic Architecture, a research agency at Goldsmiths, University of London, gathering architects, artists, filmmakers, and authors to investigate geopolitical crimes in which architecture or territorial components can be approached as witnesses and evidences. Although the agency’s investigations involves a variety of geographies (Guatemala, Syria, Serbia, Pakistan, etc.), this conversation mostly focuses on Palestine in general, and Rafah, Gaza in particular.

LÉOPOLD LAMBERT: There already have been plenty of interviews in which you explain in what the work of Forensic Architecture consists; I will therefore redirect readers to these conversations as complements to this discussion. What I’m interested to talk about here is the idea that, behind the apparent chaos of the debris of destruction, there is a strong order and strategy that we might not be able to see without investigating, which is the essence of what Forensic Architecture is about. Could you tell us how the concept of “designed destruction” might address the genealogy of Forensic Architecture? How does it involve the fact that, as you write, so many victims of bombardments die from the building collapsing, rather than from the bomb itself — which influences how bombs are designed to compromise buildings in a very specific way? Could you tell us your thoughts about the notion of designing an attack in the same way one would design an architectural project?

Weizman Funambulist 1
A residential building bearing the marks of military fire or tank shells / Courtesy of Forensic Architecture (2017)

EYAL WEIZMAN: I think that the problem of design, whether it is design by destruction or by various infrastructural or construction problem, is a problem of governance: the governance of people in space. We need to understand that the city is an apparatus of government. And, to operate as an apparatus of government, it has to always change. So we can speak about the way in which we can read power — a power diagram — from an image or plan of a city as it exists or emanates from squares or around boulevards. But what interests me always is that the act of governing space is the act of transforming space. And in a sense, it is an anti-panopticon model of thinking because in the Foucauldian panopticon — an almost classic example of the relation between power and space and subjectivation — the space exists. It is a static space in which relations of power inhabit in particular ways, making use of the physical characteristics.

I was always interested in thinking about governing in space as space in movement, space in transformation. The moment power operates in space is the moment it transforms it. Because, of course, when you have an understanding of power as that which comes through continuously rearticulated force fields, no existing static shape can contain the flux of forces. Therefore, space and the space of the city has to be continuously transformed. The moment in which power operates is exactly the moment of the cut of a street or a pathway through slums or old medieval neighborhoods, or an act of constructing something. Then the diagram of power will change and transformation will have to come again. Therefore there is no immediate ontological division between construction and destruction. We’re speaking about the political plastic as a category that includes both construction and destruction. It is really the way in which political forces slow into form. So this is one way of looking at the scale of the city: the shaping of the city through cutting forms through it — cutting squares through it, cutting boulevards through it, cutting networks of nodes that connect in circulation systems through it — is an act of government. By design, it includes simultaneously construction and deconstruction. It is simply the reorganization of matter across the surface of the earth.