aia code of ethics reform


In 2011, United Nations bodies determined that long-term solitary isolation is a form of torture or cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment prohibited by international law, and made special reference to the United States use of supermax prisons and juvenile solitary confinement as violations. All international human rights bodies have also long included abolition of the death penalty as a necessary ultimate step in realizing human rights. AIA‘s code of ethics already includes the statement “Members should uphold human rights in all their professional endeavors,” but this standard is unenforceable without reference to international human rights standards. Adding enforceable language to the AIA Code can help redress the problems caused by buildings that embody human rights violations.

Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility (ADPSR) is asking the American Institute of Architects to amend its Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct to prohibit the design of spaces for killing, torture, and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. In the United States, this comprises the design of execution chambers; super-maximum security prisons (“supermax”), where solitary confinement is an intolerable form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment; and solitary confinement facilities for juveniles and the mentally ill. As people of conscience and as a profession dedicated to improving the built environment for all people, we cannot participate in the design of spaces that violate human life and dignity. Participating in the development of buildings designed for killing, torture, or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment is fundamentally incompatible with professional practice that respects standards of decency and human rights.




Architects, designers and planners of many countries organized internationally for non-violent conflict resolution among nations, for the protection of our natural environment and for responsible development of our built environment. 

AIA san francisco

"This is about who we are, and where our moral compass points,” said Board president John Kouletsis, AIA. “Not that individuals who disagree have no moral compass, but as a profession what do we stand for?"

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→ Letter of Endorsement



AIA is a leadership organization. Seeing how other professions handle issues around professional participation in questions of human rights abuses makes it clear to us what a leadership position is on this issue. Leadership requires us to put the public interest first and be firmly on the side of protecting human rights, anything less would be setting the bar
too low.

→ Letter of Endorsement

american civil liberties union

Protecting individual freedoms and promoting practices that conform to human rights standards requires the active participation of many sectors of civil society. Many voices must speak out; many citizens must act. The proposed amendment to the AIA Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct would be a strong statement to correctional officials, policymakers, and the public at large that the AIA does not condone cruel and inhumane treatment.

→ Letter of Endorsement



We believe that full protection of human rights is necessary for positive change to occur in communities and for equitable decision-making to be possible. 

→ Letter of Endorsement

center for architecture and human rights

CAHR works to advance the  cause of human rights in design and development through research, teaching, and advocacy


amnesty international

The initiative of the ADPSR would help to prevent architects, designers, and planners from involvement in work which may facilitate violations of the human right not to be subjected to torture or other ill-treatment. We strongly support this initiative and we urge you to make such a change to ensure the respect and protection of human rights. 

→ Letter of Endorsement



As a professional organization we should not only respond to but advocate for more holistic and humane design because, as others have pointed out, our prime directive is and ought to be to make the world a better place through design. It may already be true that our profession, and by extension the AIA, operates informally under an equivalent of the Hippocratic Oath (“first, do no harm”), but this is not necessarily the case, as ADPSR’s proposal indicates. ... given the BSA’s research into these issues, our assessment of how “human rights” are defined by organizations including the United Nations, our understanding of the scope and purpose of the AIA Code of Ethics with regard to the practice of architecture and US law, and considering what we learned at the BSA Ethics Committee’s deliberation after the November 5 panel, we hereby recommend that the National AIA fully support ADPSR’s proposed amendment to the Code of Ethics.

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→ Letter of Endorsement



The proposed amendment, if adopted, will help architects uphold human rights as called for in AIA’s ethics standard 1.4... We also hope such an amendment would be a first step in a broader effort by architects and their professional organization to ensure that their services further the human rights of all persons deprived of their liberty to be treated with respect for their human dignity, to not be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and – for those in prison – to have rehabilitation be the primary goal of incarceration. Designing buildings with these rights in mind is essential if the rights are to be respected in practice. 

→ Letter of Endorsement



The Special Rapporteur on Torture has issued a statement in support of the NGO ADPSR call for an end to designs that facilitate torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. In his statement, the Special Rapporteur endorses ADPSR’s petition to the American Institute of Architects (AIA) to amend its Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct to prohibit the design of spaces intended for prolonged solitary confinement, explaining that such a prohibition would be “a welcome step in advancing respect for human rights within civil society.” The Special Rapporteur explained that the design of prison environments can in general help meet human rights standards but that in some extreme cases, design may actually facilitate abuse. He elaborated that architects participate in shaping the experience of people in detention, and can therefore play a meaningful role in resolving the human rights problems caused by the practice of solitary confinement by prohibiting the design of spaces that leading to such cruel, inhuman, or degrading conditions 

→ Letter of Endorsement


We respect and admire the dedication, skill, and love that architects have brought to shaping our houses of worship. We are reaching out to you, AIA, as the collective representative of those architects, to let you know that just as much as we value your contributions to our religious life, we want you to join us in addressing the small group of buildings that are an affront to our religious commitments and to universal human rights. In order to end the suffering caused by prolonged solitary confinement, many of us must speak out from our positions in civil society.We speak out as religious communities, and we urge you to speak out as a professional community to end the design of spaces for prolonged solitary confinement

→ Letter of Endorsement


Architecture and planning can serve a variety of ends, and we believe it is of the utmost importance that professionals always aim for the best outcomes in our work. While each client and project has different potential for social and environmental improvement, at the least we should always strive to mitigate social ills and we should never actively promote the worst possible abuses such as human rights violations. Professional associations in architecture and planning must continually strive to raise our standards of public service, and ADPSR’s proposal is an important step in public protection and professional responsibility. 

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