Brad Samuels Uses Architectural Forensics to Tackle Human Rights Issues

Brad Samuels, leader of SITU Research, shared his recent project work during the SoA Lecture Series event on February 11 at Kresge Theatre. Photo by Michael Powell.

Brad Samuels, leader of SITU Research, shared his recent project work during the SoA Lecture Series event on February 11 at Kresge Theatre. Photo by Michael Powell.

By Susie Kim

On the evening of February 11, Brad Samuels spoke at the School of Architecture’s 2019 Spring Lecture Series, the last stop on his current lecture tour. Brad leads the research division of SITU, an unconventional architectural design practice based out of New York City. The company, and especially the research division, is mainly focused on social impact and human rights issues. In specific, SITU Research aims to curate projects to apply new architectural and design methods while also seeking out unconventional areas of practice.

With SITU based in New York City, Samuels wanted to start at a smaller scale with his projects, and showed how architecture can be applied at various levels. One of his local projects, a search for more efficient library spaces, explored how the outdated architecture of libraries is able to be manipulated to create more modern spaces for current user demographics. With this project, SITU created a matrix-like menu with a reconfigurable kit of modular parts. This small kit of re-arrangeable modules allows for libraries adapt to budget constraints, while also enabling a robust organizational program for the various uses of library spaces.

Within a neighborhood context, however, Samuels explained that SITU is able to expand its programmatic research to bridge the gap between possible societal topics, including demographics, with the effects of architecture. Samuels went on to describe how neighborhoods are sectioned demographically by the type of residences which are built, and how combining various building typologies can foster an economically and demographically rich community. To implement this, SITU has been exploring abandoned disability centers and exploring the ways in which a blend of different transportation types and residences are able to promote a country that is further united, rather than divided by, its differences.

Recently, however, SITU’s work has been more focused on larger, more human rights-oriented aspects. In 2013, SITU started their largest project to date using forensic architecture to recount the Ukraine Euromaiden event in which hundreds of civilians were killed due to police violence. By stitching together the hundreds of videos and audio recordings taken by bystanders, SITU created a virtual model showing the proximity of victims to members of the police and the exact trajectory of the bullets that claimed their lives. This data was incorporated into a user-friendly interface that by the prosecution in court to challenge the accountability of the police.

Today, SITU continues to work in forensic architecture, and is currently collaborating with the International Crime Court to create a virtual model of an entire city to be used in the case against a perpetrator of repeated assaults. Samuels says, however, that while human rights is the focus of their research, that is not what SITU is trying to prove. Rather, he says, it shows the extreme range of topics that architecture can be applied to, and how the field of architecture will never be limited to simple buildings.

Susie Kim is a first-year Bachelor of Architecture student in the Carnegie Mellon University School of Architecture.