Victory and Accountability - in our politics in the architectural profession

Accountability is essential to equal and respectful relations between people at all scales -- between coworkers, citizens, and even within a democracy of hundreds of millions. The past months have seen both catastrophic failures of accountability and a hopeful turn towards a new direction. While the Kavanaugh confirmation battle demonstrated a shocking lack of accountability for sexual assault, political partisanship, this week’s election showed that a majority of American voters want there to be a check on executive power and put an end to one-party rule.

So also in the world of design, where just a few weeks ago, the American Institute of Architects changed its Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct -- a change that ADPSR has been demanding since 2013. Whatever your feeling about the election results, this is a victory for human rights, for ADPSR, and for you, our members. Congratulations!!

The revised Code updates the Human Rights standard  to prohibit “wanton disregard of the rights of others” and “discrimination and harassment.” As AIA’s press release indicates, these changes were created especially to address the concerns of women -- hats off to the #MeToo movement!-- but the language is broad enough to cover many protected categories (race, religion, national origin, age, disability, gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation) and most forms of harassment. This is a welcome development in a profession that has long been dominated by white men, and is a major victory for legions of women (and men) who have been demanding that architecture be more genuinely inclusive of diversity for years, including those leading AIA’s Equity by Design initiative, and the #MeToo movement more generally.

The revised Ethics Code also serves to meet ADPSR’s demand that the profession prohibit intentional violation of human rights by design, especially the design of execution chambers and spaces for solitary confinement. Who can doubt that designing a space where someone will be killed or tortured shows “wanton disregard for the rights of” the victims in those spaces? Coincidentally, these changes came about just as PBS NewsHour highlighted ADPSR’s campaign around the issue of solitary confinement -- please watch and share their 8-minute segment “Architects designing for prisons confront ethical questions”! The combined Code change and publicity of the issue mark a high point in ADPSR’s campaign for higher rights within the profession of architecture.

With the Code of Ethics now aligned with human rights, ADPSR will seek out those projects that egregiously undermine people’s health, safety, and welfare and demand that their designers terminate their engagement with the project, change the project to comply with human rights standards, or face discipline from their peers. As you know, ADPSR has long been concerned with the egregious injustices created by prisons and especially by the cruelty of solitary confinement. As a small organization, we believe we can achieve the most impact by starting at this extreme, to right the scales of injustice where they are most tipped.

As architects, designers, and planners, we contribute to realizing universal human rights every time we design decent housing, medical facilities, or schools for those who still lack them, or when we protect and restore the environment on which all life depends. We must also immediately end our participation in undermining the civil, political, social and economic rights that are an essential part of that decent life, starting with the most grievous violations. We hope you will continue to stand with ADPSR as we stand up for human rights.

kelly gregory