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05.06.2014
Visualizing a Hidden War
Architects create user-friendly map of drone strikes worldwide.
Architects are mapping drone strikes to increase public awareness of covert military actions.
Courtesy SITU Research

As the debate over drone strikes has amplified in the United States and abroad, public information about the efficacy of the program has not. Drone warfare continues to be hidden behind impenetrable layers of secrecy. But the burgeoning field of “forensic architecture,” and the ability to visualize and render the sites of drone strikes, could start to peel back some of those layers. This is what the Brooklyn-based SITU Research—part of the larger, design-focused SITU Studio—and Forensic Architecture from Goldsmiths, University of London, have done through a recent collaboration.

The two firms created an interactive web-based platform to profile and map the sites of 30 drone strikes across five countries. This is not some hypothetical project or abstract idea about the built environment and international policy; it is an entirely new way to understand the issue of drones. And the U.N. Special Rapporteur for Counter Terrorism and Human Rights, Ben Emmerson, recently presented their work before the UN Human Rights Council. This was part of his larger report about the need for increased transparency on the impact of drone strikes on civilian populations.

 

The new platform takes reports of drone strikes—by the U.S. and Israel—and lays them into a user-friendly map. From Pakistan to Yemen to Gaza, each marker represents the location of an alleged attack, site-by-site and body-by-body. Every point tells a different story: five killed while driving in North Waziristan, 12 blown-up on their way to a wedding in Yemen, two children killed when their house exploded in Gaza City.

SITU and Forensic Architecture also rendered the sites of certain strikes in detail, including one woman’s home that was destroyed in an alleged strike. According to a statement from SITU and Forensic Architecture, “the researchers cross referenced various types of media such as mobile phone videos, photographs, interviews, testimonies, computer models, and satellite photographs to analyze the impact of drone strikes.”

 

At its core, this project is aimed at increasing visibility into a world that is infamously cloaked in shadows. Given the very limited information that is available about drone strikes, this was not easy.

“The logic of drone warfare, from the American perspective, is to increase visibility, to create permanent surveillance over the area,” Eyal Weizman, the principal investigator at Forensic Architecture, told AN. “It also acts to eliminate the ability to visualize what has happened. It is kind of an intervention on the field of vision, which on the one hand increases the American ability to see and decreases the possibility for anyone from the international community to monitor.”

This project could start to rebalance that equation.

Henry Melcher