With the recent controversy regarding the accident at Serendra Condominium, the topic on Forensic Architecture as part of an Architects Specialized Service has been explored.
But what is Forensic Architecture?
According to the Architects Standards of Professional Service (SPP) Documents, Forensic Architecture is defined as a Specialized Field in Architecture where the Architect in this area of practice undertakes a scientific study on the built environment’s well-being, which allow the Architect to focus on the ways in which the building/structure can best maintain itself and prolong its life in a cost-efficient manner, and finally provide recommendations to the Owner/Client.
The forensic study may include the determination as to the causes of building/ building component/ building material deterioration or the causes of observed building deficiencies e.g. plan-/design-deficient, non-compliance with planning and building laws, etc., and may also involve research on possible faulty activities/operations during the project implementation/construction phase as well as the determination of plan/design and/or construction methodology failure/s.
Wikipedia defines Forensic Architecture as the work of expert witnesses presenting spatial analysis in a legal context. Their practice combines the principles of property surveying, structural engineering, the physics of blast forces and the chemistry of composite materials.
From another site (Building Design and Analysis), this is the explanation on Forensic Architecture:
WHAT IS FORENSIC ARCHITECTURE?
Building Failure It is all too easy to take for granted the durability of buildings. We put great trust in architects, engineers and contractors to ensure that the structures they create are safe, sound and durable places to live, work and play. We rely on these professionals to construct the places where we live our lives and to do so with care, using materials and methods that will guarantee the usability of these buildings for many years.
Unfortunately, that trust is too often misplaced and some buildings fail to meet expected standards. Building failure takes many forms, from roof leaks to basement water intrusion. Wall and floor systems can crack or become uneven, problems may arise with the building envelope, or windows may fail to operate properly. Brick and tile may come loose, falling from the building façade. Even safety issues may arise, putting the building's users at risk.
It takes the work of many people to successfully raise a building, but a single defect can have dramatic consequences, going so far as to render a building useless. Buildings are large, complex, costly propositions and so too are their failures. When a building failure arises, the first step toward rehabilitation is determining responsibility.
Why call a Forensic Architect?
A forensic architect is a professional consultant who understands every stage in a building's lifecycle, from concept and construction to the end of its useful life. With this knowledge and state of the art investigative and testing methodologies, a forensic architect is able to accurately pinpoint the cause of building failure, identifying not only the problem, but also where in the building's lifecycle the problem originated.
When building failure occurs, the objective of a forensic architect is to assist all parties in making the building sound and usable again. To that end, the forensic architect will produce recommendations for the repair and restoration of a property, as well as obtain cost estimates for repair.
In addition to providing building failure analysis and remedial repair planning services, forensic architects also act as expert witnesses, providing testimony in order to come to a resolution in construction defect disputes. Forensic experts are widely used in dispute resolution proceedings as well as at trial to provide qualified testimony on behalf of owners, contractors, subcontractors and design professionals. From Cromlech-Architect:
What is Forensic Architecture?
A Forensic Architect is an expert witness who, in court, provides technical analysis, reports, and testimony. He provides forensic technical services towards the resolution of litigation and claims arising out of a wide range of activities for the plaintiff or defendant.
For example; expertise with a wide variety of facilities and construction types applied to: Slip Accidents, Trip Accidents, Building System Failures, Building Safety, Security, Building Maintenance, Building Types, Building Design and Planning, Site Planning and much more. If it involves a building and analysis of same, a Forensic Architect can help you.
When did this profession begin and why?
This unique profession began roughly about 1990 (+/-). This was in response to an ever increasing need for experts to analyze and testify in court cases about deficient practices or acts in the building construction industry. This includes injured parties, insurance companies, property owners, facility designers, construction contractors, equipment installers, architects, engineers, maintenance companies and other providers of building services.
What are some of the potential areas that might be involved?
Facility design of architectural or engineering trades, codes and standards, design changes, design build, HVAC and energy comfort, site design and retaining walls, suitability of use, construction delays, construction changes, damage to work in progress, drawings adequacy, drawing clarity, drawing compliance, drawing interpretation, product substitution, workmanship, quality control, settling, collapse, site drainage, water intrusion.
Who practices this new profession?
Architects who have a very broad background in the profession coupled with many years of experience. This is truly a case where "an old architect is a good Forensic Architect".
Who uses a Forensic Architect and why?
Lawyers, owners, insurance companies, individuals, and anybody who is searching for the truth through scientific fact finding.
What types of activities might warrant the hiring of an Forensic Architect?
Personal injury, property damage or economic loss as it relates to the built environment and architecture.
To succeed in their highly specialized profession, forensic architects must have a designer's eye, a scientist's brain—and the nose of a detective. (Read full article on services of one firm interviewed by Architect Magazine)