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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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This post is a copy of the Jan 6th update to supporters of our petition to the AIA.

Dear supporters,

The American Institute of Architects has responded to our petition, rejecting our proposal to strengthen the human rights standard of the AIA Code of Ethics by prohibiting the design of spaces intended to violate human rights, especially execution chambers and spaces intended for torture, including prison spaces intended for prolonged solitary confinement. AIA's response (which you can see on the ADPSR website) is full of legalisms and smokescreen arguments but between the lines it boils down to some unfortunate observations about the Institute: AIA places business interests above human rights, AIA is afraid of offending people who approve of torture and killing, and AIA cannot or will not educate the profession or the broader public about how architects can and should help uphold human rights. We are truly disappointed in the cowardice of AIA, which claims to be a "leadership" organization and the "voice of the architectural profession."

ADPSR President Raphael Sperry penned a powerful op-ed on CNN.com in response to AIA's letter that tied their position to the recent revelations in the US Senate's Torture Report; it was one of CNN’s top 20 stories the day it ran. He wrote, “The unwillingness of American's leading architectural association to prohibit the design of torture facilities is a shocking, shameful and deeply troubling statement. It refuses to place any limit on the potential role of design in human rights violations, even the most egregious.”

With regards to the death penalty, it is equally shocking and troubling to imagine that architects who design spaces intended to kill other people are welcome in the world’s largest professional association for architects. As AIA put it in their letter, “The AIA Code of Ethics should not exist to create limitations on the practice by AIA members of specific building types.” Really – not even gas chambers? The Nazi regime’s crematoria were technically somewhat complex buildings that were designed by architects, much as the rest of the Nazi genocide program was managed by technical experts. Israel’s Holocaust research center Yad Vashem has some of the design drawings on file. Even though the Nazi genocide was done before the establishment of the current international human rights system, we all wish that average Germans had had more direction about how to resist the horrors that their own government was enrolling them in. AIA’s Code of Ethics is an ideal place to enshrine this kind of civil society governance and shared commitment to the public good, and ADPSR presented AIA with an excellent opportunity to do the right thing. Instead, they indicated a future willingness to look the other way no matter what AIA members do in the practice of architecture.

Despite this disappointing outcome, ADPSR's campaign for human rights has hardly been in vain. We received over 2,000 signatures in support of our petition to AIA; AIA chapters in San Francisco, Boston, and Portland, Ore. endorsed our campaign; and we earned letters of support from such human rights stalwarts as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, ACLU, and the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture. We mounted an exhibition of the design of spaces that violate human rights at UC Berkeley and it is available to travel to other destinations (please contact us if you are interested in helping mount the exhibition in your city or university). While in their first response AIA was not prepared to take a leadership position on human rights, history shows that progress is possible over time. A future AIA Board of Directors may well reconsider, and the door of human rights - of tolerance, equality, and peace - will always be open.

Thank you for standing with ADPSR!

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Raphael Sperry - Tue Oct 21, 2014 @ 12:48AM
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After working for over a year soliciting and sourcing material, it's exciting to be able to announce that ADPSR's exhibit "Sentenced: Architecture and Human Rights" is open at the Wurster Gallery at the UC Berkeley College of Environmental Design! The show highlights problematic and little-known spaces within United States prisons and detention centers that house activities deemed to violate human rights: execution chambers, supermax prisons, and juvenile isolation cells.

Do these spaces provide for an appropriate punishment for unacceptable behavior, or are they themselves part of the problem? Visitors will have a chance to see rarely available documentation including architectural plans of execution chambers, drawings from people held in solitary isolation, and photographs of the interiors of juvenile detention centers. What do these extreme spaces of containment have to teach us about the state of freedom in our broader American society?

We had an excellent opening night where a capacity crowd turned out to hear a panel featuring journalist and solitary confinement survivor Sarah Shourd, UC Berkeley architecture professor Jill Stoner -- one of the leaders of the campus-wide "Prison course -- and ADPSR President Raphael Sperry.

Congratulations to curator and correspondent extraordinaire Lisbet Portman; thanks to our contributors, who opened a window into a hidden and dangerous world; and thanks to our sponsors, who helped to spread the word about the opening event, provided refreshments, and provided the large-format printing for the exhibition materials:


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Raphael Sperry - Fri Aug 01, 2014 @ 02:03PM
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Earlier today, the ADPSR national board of directors sent a 15-page letter to AIA detailing our proposal to prohibit the design of execution chambers and spaces for prolonged solitary confinement. Since AIA's working group responding to the human rights proposal ADPSR is advancing won't meet with us, we had to write down our entire argument and respond to potential counter-arguments in advance. 

You can see the entire letter here -- hope you find it convincing!

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Raphael Sperry - Thu Jun 19, 2014 @ 03:43PM
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ADPSR launched our first crowdfunding campaign earlier this week to support our work on human rights and the AIA Code of Ethics. ADPSR does much of its operations on a volunteer basis, with members who feel passionately about our issues joining the national board of directors, working with board members on volunteer committees, or starting local area chapters. Our Northern California group, for instance, pulled off the Building Envelope Solutions Showcase on a volunteer basis, with the fees charge to vendors and attendees offsetting the costs of renting the space and running the event.

For the AIA Ethics and Human Rights campaign (which I direct), much of the work was accomplished thanks to the Soros Justice Fellowship I received in 2012 from the Open Society Foundations. The 18 month Fellowship gave me a full-time opportunity to do the research, development, and outreach needed to investigate this issue,address it, and engage with AIA. But unlike much of ADPSR's other work, significant expenses lie ahead: travel and printing costs are the largest items. So it seemed like a good time to ask for support from ADPSR's members and our broader community of supporters.

like any good crowdfunding campaign, we have a two-minute video

By coincidence, just a few weeks ago we were approached by WhyDidX, a new venture aiming to tie crowdsourced funding for innovative human rights projects to news gathering and distribution. The chance to work together was too good to ignore, and the campaign is on. Please take a moment to check it out, support ADPSR, and learn about our partner WhyDidX: http://www.whydidx.com/raphael-sperry/

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