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Shawn Hesse - Sun Oct 15, 2017 @ 12:28AM
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When did pharmaceutical executives take the moral high-ground over architects?

Most of the dozen or so people in attendance at the October 10, 2017 meeting of the BSA Ethics Committee said what you are probably thinking; never. That answer is wrong, however.In May of 2016, Pfizer became the last FDA approved drug manufacturer to release a statement saying they would join the other major pharmaceutical companies, and refuse to sell the drugs used in executions to state and federal agencies.Effectively, the entire pharmaceutical industry has collectively said, “we will not have our products used to execute people”.

In fact, there is a long list of industries that have taken a formal position against their members using their professional skills, training, or products to assist, or enable executions or torture.From the International Academy of Compounding Pharmacists, National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians, National Commission on Correctional Health Care, American Pharmacists Association, American Public Health Association, American Medical Association, American Nurses Association, American Society of Anesthesiologists, American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, American College of Correctional Physicians, American Board of Anesthesiology, and the World Medical Association.

The American Institute of Architects has not.

This is the root of the ADPSR ethics campaign: to encourage the AIA to take a similar position. AIA could adopt an ethics rule that would ensure the profession acts in ways that are consistent with upholding human rights when it comes to extreme cases of designing spaces intended for execution or torture.

The Boston Society of Architects Ethics Committee, however, is engaging in a conversation around this topic. At the October 10th meeting, the committee hosted Shawn Hesse, a member of the board of ADPSR, and Brad Walker, a former member of the National Ethics Council at AIA, to discuss the implications of the campaign, and the steps that the BSA could take independent of a strong stance from the AIA nationally.

The conversation revolved around two primary topics.The first, that the newly revised 2017 AIA Code of Ethics includes references to Human Rights, and includes new Ethical Standard, 1.5 – “Design for Human Dignity and the Health, Safety and Welfare of the Public: Members should employ their professional knowledge and skill to design buildings and spaces that will enhance and facilitate human dignity and the health, safety, and welfare of the individual and the public.”

The second topic was that the terms “Human Rights”, “prolonged solitary confinement”, “cruel and degrading”, and “torture” all have very specific definitions, as defined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Mandela Rules (which provide guidance for how to design prisons while maintaining respect for the basic human rights and dignity of the individuals).

Although the majority of the conversation was focused on what could be done, there was disagreement about what it should be, and even whether anything should be done at all. In fact, through the concerns that were raised, it is clear that ADPSR should also take into account and include in our campaign the impact that prison buildings and spaces have on the mental health and dignity of not just the people who are imprisoned, but also the people who are the guards.

There was agreement that the BSA Ethics Committee would like to continue conversation, and there was a suggestion that the BSA distribute the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Mandela Rules to their members, with a tentative date in early 2018 to reconvene and discuss those standards more in depth.

Even if the architecture profession as a whole hasn’t regained the ethical high-ground, at least the BSA is working on it.

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Raphael Sperry - Tue Jun 20, 2017 @ 12:23AM
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wikimedia commons

The appearance, massing, and form of a building, including its relationship to its site and context, are integral to building performance. As architects, designers, and planners, we are committed to these design considerations, knowing that they have a powerful effect upon how people live and their experience of the built environment. When it came to renovate London’s Grenfell Tower, correcting life safety issues for residents should have come before surface cladding. Instead, Grenfell tower got a £8.6m aesthetic upgrade to its exterior made of dangerously flammable foam-backed panels, largely to appeal to its wealthy neighborhood "context", even as residents complained of un-addressed life safety issues such as the fire alarm system. The fact that non-flammable foam was available for just a few pounds more (https://qz.com/1007903/the-catastrophic-consequences-of-being-poor-in-one-of-londons-richest-neighborhoods/) indicates how thoroughly corrupted the project’s priorities and its commitment to health, safety, and welfare truly were.

By all reports, this tragedy was completely avoidable if even a small amount of attention had been paid to the residents at Grenfell themselves, who had raised serious safety concerns about the building many times. In the same vein, public agencies in the United States are racing to meet the needs of fossil fuel companies, weapons makers, and Trump family business associates while ignoring the needs of rural communities, distressed urban neighborhoods, and even aging suburbs. We cannot afford to see our department of Housing and Urban Development, which helps organize and regulate private housing finance and public housing, run by ideologues and Trump family cronies who know nothing about buildings, safety, urban planning, or public participation. We need to restore government to a system that listens to those most directly impacted by its policies and is responsive to the needs of all citizens. Design professionals have an important role to play to ensure that all stakeholders in public housing (and private housing and all other types of projects) get a considerate hearing, to ensure that safety comes first, and to press public agencies for the funds needed to do our work safely and properly.

Lastly, it is unacceptable that wealthy countries like the U.S. and U.K. can find tremendous amounts of money for waging wars around the world -- ostensibly to protect residents at home while destroying housing in other countries -- but spend so little on maintaining public housing that this kind of disaster occurs. The deaths at the Grenfell Towers are just the final outcome of a worldview that systematically starves public safety net agencies -- including housing authorities -- in order to give tax cuts to the financial and real estate sectors and wage endless wars.

Tags: #grenfell
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Raphael Sperry - Mon Feb 27, 2017 @ 11:47PM
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To ADPSR's dismay, the Trump Administration recently published a bidding opportunity for design/construction firms for the border wall project.These firms will be jeopardizing public health, safety and welfare by attempting to force more people to risk their lives in dangerous desert crossings through militarization and intimidation. The complete list of 189 “interested vendors” as of Feb. 27, 2017 is below.

Those wishing to express their feelings can contact the listed firms or, perhaps, the Federal bid managers:

Primary Point of Contact.:
John P Callahan,
Contract Specialist
Phone: 317-614-4934
Fax: 317-298-1344

Secondary Point of Contact:
Richard A Travis,
Contract Specialist
Phone: 317-614-4580
Fax: 317-298-1344

The bid notice reads as follows:
Solicitation Number:
Notice Type:
Added: Feb 24, 2017 11:34 am

The Dept. of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) intends on issuing a solicitation in electronic format on or about March 6, 2017 for the design and build of several prototype wall structures in the vicinity of the United States border with Mexico. The procurement will be conducted in two phases, the first requiring vendors to submit a concept paper of their prototype(s) by March 10, 2017, which will result in the evaluation and down select of offerors by March 20, 2017. The second phase will require the down select of phase 1 offerors to submit proposals in response to the full RFP by March 24, 2017, which will include price. Multiple awards are contemplated by mid-April for this effort. An option for additional miles may be included in each contract award.


Below is the current list of 219 (and counting) interested vendors for the project. As CityLab calls out in their article on the matter, not all listed vendors may be actually interested in the project, but may have other anti-wall motives. 


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As caring people and design professionals, we are outraged to see peaceful acts of resistance against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) met with escalating police brutality. The growing movement at Standing Rock puts the spotlight on both a planning process gone wrong and deeper societal design flaws starting with the genocide of indigenous peoples at the founding of this nation. As a nation, we need to hear and heed the voices of the Water Protectors, instead of yet again threatening first amendment and basic human rights in service to development interests. We urge fellow designers to add your name to this petition calling on President Obama to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline and then take additional steps in active solidarity.

Image liscenced for noncommercial reuse - used by inhabitat.com

As planners, we are greatly concerned by federal fast-tracked permitting of the DAPL and other pipelines across our nation. Responsible planning takes working with stakeholders, not just stockholders, in an inclusive process. It behooves us to hear and heed the voices of the thousands of native peoples and non-native allies that have gathered in response to direct threats to the drinking water, burial grounds and other sacred sites of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The threat to the Missouri River, which is the tribe’s primary water source is evidenced by the 220 ‘significant’ pipeline spills already this year, and over 3000 since 2006. The re-routing of the DAPL from its original proposed path through the state capital to native treaty landundermines a number of existing regulations and treaties and continues along history of siting dangerous and polluting infrastructure in native and other disadvantaged communities.

The #NoDAPL struggle is fundamentally about the rights of native peoples to defend their water and lives. Emerging from this foundation, #NoDAPL is also a nexus for a host of social and environmental justice issues facing our nation including systemic racism, global climate change, and intergenerational justice. As professionals, we can no longer afford to see these as disconnected concerns, separate from design. They impact both what we are contracted to design and our ability to conduct planning, design, and development in a socially responsible manner.

As architects, designers, and planners, we have the know-how to design net-zero energy buildings and to retrofit existing buildings to achieve high environmental standards. We know how to design livable, walkable communities and low-carbon transit systems. We also know how to engage communities in our planning processes and the importance of doing so. It isn’t lack of technical know-how that stymies our efforts to design-out fossil fuels and design-in community accountability, but rather improperly structured incentives for owners and designers.

What Standing Rock highlights is that we cannot effectively right these problems via voluntary measures by professionals. We need systemic change, and, given entrenched interests, we won’t get that change without people on the ground engaging in active civil disobedience. At a time that the planning and design industry is championing an integrated design approach, the Standing Rock struggle is highlighting a massive failure of social integration in planning procedures and natural resource policies. Active solidarity, that supports this native-led struggle without subsuming it, is a good place to start designing our way to a responsible, responsive, resilient society.

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Lynne Elizabeth - Mon May 16, 2016 @ 02:43PM
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Designing Justice + Designing Spaces (DJDS), an organization currently in formation under the fiscal sponsorship of ADPSR, recently received a Thriving Cultures grant from the Surdna Foundation to perform community engagement and to design a peacemaking and restorative justice project in the greater Fruitvale area of Oakland, California. Under the leadership of designer and ADPSR board member Deanna Van Buren, DJDS will be working with the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights (EBC) and Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC) to launch a community-based restorative economics and restorative justice hub in East Oakland in the first phase of the Restore Oakland project.

Deanna was also recently named an Echoing Green 2016 Finalist for a Fellowship in Justice & Human Rights. Her stated goal is to “engage communities in the design and development of new buildings that integrate restorative justice, economics, education, and reentry housing to counter societal inequities evident in the dominant architectural models of courthouses and prisons.” Brava, Deanna!

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Raphael Sperry - Wed Feb 24, 2016 @ 04:23PM
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AIA has informed ADPSR that the AIA National Ethics Council will (re)consider our proposal to prohibit the design of execution chambers and spaces intended for torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. This is big progress from 2014, when AIA rejected ADPSR's proposal, but a new turn for the National Ethics Council, which had never considered the proposal before. We salute AIA's 2015 and 2016 Presidents for taking another look at this vitally important issue. Since AIA's rejection, two more medical professional associations -- this time, of pharmacists -- have told their members not to participate in executions, and the United Nations has adopted new human rights rules for the treatment of prisoners specifically barring the kind of solitary confinement routinely practiced across the United States. ADPSR explained these and other trends in a letter encouraging AIA to consider last year.

Please JOIN US in thanking AIA for their reconsideration and encouraging them to take a strong stand for human rights!

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Raphael Sperry - Tue Feb 09, 2016 @ 11:44PM
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In December the American Correctional Association proposed modifying its standards for solitary confinement. It was a series of relatively minor proposed changes, starting with changing the name of the practice from "segregated housing" (which is what many prison and jail agencies currently call solitary) to "Restrictive Housing." The standards include portions dealing with the spaces used for "restrictive housing," including size, access to light, and views.

We at ADPSR were not entirely sure that it was appropriate to try to "improve" these standards -- for instance by arguing for larger rooms and better daylight and views -- since common American use of solitary confinement (whatever you call it) does not meet international human rights standards. Most obviously, while human rights groups agree that solitary confinement should be very limited, used as a last resort, and then for 15 days at an absolute maximum, the US has tens of thousands of people in solitary with stays of a year, multiple years, and even decades not uncommon. "Better" conditions may make a 15 day stay tolerable, but will do nothing to curb the abuse inherent in prolonged solitary confinement.
However, at the urging of other human rights groups, we added comments that encourage ACA to require a higher minimum quality of space for places intended for "restrictive housing." Our comments cited the new "Mandela Rules" (see below) consistently, and we included a letter contextualizing our comments within a broader human rights framework. For more on the ACA process, click here; for ADPSR's letter and comments, click here.
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Raphael Sperry - Tue Feb 09, 2016 @ 11:42PM
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As a group long focused on the human rights abuses of American prisons, ADPSR welcomes the recent update of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, which date back to 1955. The update to the rules were named for South African president and freedom fighter Nelson Mandela, who famously spent many years as a political prisoner himself and, among his other achievements, was an advocate for prisoners' rights.

The new rules give even greater strength to ADPSR's proposal that architects should not design spaces intended for prolonged solitary confinement. The new rules define "prolonged solitary confinement" as a condition where people are held within cells for 22 hours per day for more than 15 days. They also say solitary should be reserved for exceptional cases and used as a last resort. And, with respect to medical ethics, they also exclude medical professionals from having any role in imposing solitary confinement. Given common American penal practices, it is readily foreseeable that these rules will be violated if architects provide spaces for any form of solitary confinement. The currently proposed new ACA standards for "restrictive housing" (see item above) allow for stays greatly in excess of 15 days.
ACA is often held up as the best that American prisons have to offer and is taken as a step towards more humane conditions. After all, many U.S. states and individual facilities don't even meet ACA standards. Yet these highest national standards fail to meet the minimum international human rights rules -- rules designed for compliance by countries with far fewer resources and much less professional expertise than the United States. To learn more about the Mandela Rules, we recommend the introductory video and associated resources from Penal Reform International here .
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Raphael Sperry - Mon Dec 14, 2015 @ 11:31AM
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ADPSR has a strong counterpoint to the rather ridiculous claim that AIA made last year that our human rights proposal could cause antitrust issues for AIA (see here for a reminder). Thanks to pro bono work by law firm Simpson Thatcher & Bartlett, we have a powerfully worded memo to AIA citing extensive details of antitrust issues facing professional associations, and concluding that our proposal faces “no serious antitrust concerns.”

We find this legal research inspiring, because it shows that American law supports professionals when we stand up for human rights. The Supreme Court (back when it was an example of decent jurisprudence) wrote: “The public service aspect, and other features of the professions, may require that a particular practice, which could properly be viewed as a violation of the Sherman Act in another context, be treated differently.” And the Sixth Circuit and D.C. Court of Appeals say, “some professional practices might survive antitrust scrutiny under the rule of reason even though illegal in other contexts…” especially for “ethical rules of professional associations narrowly confined to interdiction of abuses.” While the overall legal landscape in the United States may be discouraging today, these rulings are a forceful living legacy of the progressive spirit of American law.

Many thanks to Michelle Kallen, Jessica Marek, and Andrew Lacy of STB for their dedicated, thorough, and powerful work!

You can find their whole letter here.

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Raphael Sperry - Fri Jul 31, 2015 @ 03:55PM
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The call from a Panamanian vice minister was a surprise: could I help with their assignment to replace a decrepit, abusive, crumbling old prison with a facility that would allow for real respect for prisoners’ human rights? As President of ADPSR I have been concerned about human rights and prison design, but ADPSR’s position is a critical one: we urge design professionals to focus on what needs to be built to help people live with dignity and address the poverty and injustice at the root of most crime – affordable housing, schools and universities, medical clinics, and the like – rather than undertake projects that fuel mass incarceration and at their worst can facilitate human rights violations.

Without hesitation I called my colleague and fellow ADPSR board member Deanna Van Buren, the leading designer of spaces for restorative justice and peacemaking. Neither of us wanted to design a prison for Panama – a country with one of the highest incarceration rates in the Western hemisphere (after the U.S.) and well-known for its human rights violations. But the vice minister had been one of the foremost critics of the human rights failures of Panama, and was appointed to redress the problem. Even though executing the design would not be acceptable for us, we also couldn’t simply refuse to help these human rights advocates in a difficult situation.


Building on Deanna’s previous work doing design workshops with people inside of jails and prisons (often in partnership with students from outside), we came up with a plan to focus on the design process. Design is not just a way to get to built structures, but a powerful mode of thinking and acting that engages human creativity, intelligence, and the capacity for discovery. Because one thing we were certain of was that for anyone to make a “human rights respecting prison” in Panama would require discovering something very new: the number of arguably “good” prisons worldwide is vanishingly small, for those with cultural relevance to Latin America, it’s zero.


The key to Deanna’s workshop process is community engagement, so we focused our webinar to the vice minister on how to run community engagement workshops with people in prison, and how to apply what would be learned to the eventual design of a building intended to serve human rights. Our goal was to engage with the most basic element of human rights when it comes to prisons: people who are deprived of their liberty are entitled to be treated with dignity and respect. (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 10.1)

This approach had two-fold value. First, the only expertise for what design features would be important to the respect and dignity of people in Panamanian prisons is those people themselves: prisoners, guards, family visitors, etc. It is an all-too-common professional presumption that we understand the needs and wants of others and when so often we are separated by class, race, or other barriers. We proposed that the workshops ask simple questions such as “what kinds of places do you feel safe in.” It takes courage, delicacy, and good listening skills but design workshops can be excellent tools for drawing out potential occupants’ concerns and desires, whether through dialogue, storyboarding, collage, or other methods. We shared case studies with the Panamanians and shared Deanna’s amazing Design Justice Designing Spaces toolkit with which they can further train and prepare themselves and the team they hire for the project in the workshop methodology. (The Toolkit is freely available to all thanks to the Fetzer Institute – feel free to download your own copy.)

Second, and perhaps of even greater value, was the opportunity to demonstrate and enact dignity and respect between the prison department, prison guards, and the people in their custody through the design process itself. It is simply not respectful to force adults to live or work in a space that they have no control over and not even to ask them if there are simple changes that might make the place more palatable. So by asking everyone in the prison what they would like in the space, we were proposing a way to realize the dignified, respectful treatment that he vice minister hopes will become the new norm. In addition to design workshops at the programming and schematic design phases, we further recommended that they follow up by having their design team present the outcome of each phase to the user groups. After all, if the goal is to show respect, it’s not enough to ask someone’s opinion – you have to incorporate their input, or else it’s just a hollow exercise.

Deanna and I are both believers in the power of design to create better spaces and places, but we are just as much believers in the importance of the design process in getting to those better spaces and places. Whether it is the “integrative design process” being advanced by the newest version of the LEED rating system, or the more unusual process of going into a prison to hear from people inside about how to make safer, more dignified, and healthier spaces, the value lies not only in the destination, but in the journey itself.


For an excerpted copy of the webinar slides we presented, please email raphael (at) adpsr (dot) org or  dvanburen (at) fourmdesign (dot) com. The slides are English only.

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