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