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April 30, 2014
by Lance Jay Brown
AIANY 2014 President Lance Jay Brown, FAIA

As we prepare for the next meeting of the International Union of Architects (UIA) in Durban, South Africa, this August, we are confronted with a proposal that demands we take an immediate position. Reporter Harriet Sherwood wrote about the proposal on 03.20.14 in London’s The Guardian. Since the matter surfaced, there have been endless articles, e-mails, and calls. While some think it may all blow over, we cannot allow it to be floated without immediate objection.

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) plans to bring a proposal to the floor of the upcoming 2014 bi-annual meeting of the UIA. The RIBA has demanded the suspension of the Israeli Association of United Architects (IAUA) from the UIA, saying it is complicit in the construction of illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and other violations of international law. While former RIBA President Angela Brady told a meeting of its council how important the proposal was, other council members pointed to human rights violations in other parts of the world, such as North Korea, which is a member of the UIA, asking why they should not be held to similar standards. Notable architects and members of AIANY have spoken out or written against the RIBA proposal, including Richard Meier, FAIA, and Daniel Libeskind, AIA.

AIANY Executive Director Rick Bell, FAIA, and I drafted a letter denouncing the RIBA proposal. The grounds upon which our draft was based centered on inclusion and dialogue, as opposed to exclusion and highly prejudicial, selective condemnation. The letter was put before the AIANY Board at its last meeting on 04.22.14. While certain details and some personalization were criticized, the general sense of the letter was approved. All thought it inappropriate for the RIBA to exclude an entire country’s architects – both Israeli and Palestinian – because the RIBA takes issue with the politics of that country. As the mission statement of the UIA is “to unite the architects of the world without any form of discrimination,” it should be obvious that excluding one country’s architects defeats the purpose.

A final draft of the letter was circulated to the Board and approved for forwarding to the RIBA. In addition, I will be writing a personal letter to the president of the Royal Institute of British Architects categorically objecting to the RIBA proposal. If you would like to write a letter as well, please address to: Royal Institute of British Architects, 66 Portland Place, London, W1B 1AD, United Kingdom.

On another front, AIANY’s president, executive director, Academy of Architecture for Justice (AAJ), Executive, and Policy Committees, and the entire AIANY Board wrestled with the ethical issues related to the architect’s role in the design of facilities for incarceration. This was in response to the Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility (ADPSR) request for an amendment to the AIA Code of Ethics prohibiting the design of spaces used for solitary confinement and capital punishment. The ADPSR wants this change to be brought to the floor at the AIA 2014 Convention in Chicago. Serious business to be taken seriously. Dialogue and discussion went on for a year before an opinion was rendered.

The AAJ commentary, with which the Board agreed, included: “Solitary confinement is a practice; it is not a specific type of space to be designed. To insert a specific prohibition in the Code of Ethics, as opposed to providing practitioners with evidence-based guidelines, is a misuse of the Code. The question of capital punishment, however abhorrent it may be to those among us, fits along a continuum of controversial practices, like abortion and assisted suicide, for which there is a lack of consensus within our society. The cultural discussion about such issues is far from settled, with no clear consensus within sight. For the AIA to take an ethical stance, forbidding its members to design facilities that are otherwise legal, and in this case, facilities for governmental activities, risks alienating membership in support of an advocacy position. These issues of design relative to solitary confinement and capital punishment are advocacy issues, not ethical ones.”

The statement concluded: “The AIA, through the AAJ, should support the development of a document that defines Best Practices for Corrections Planning and Design in order to promote evidence-based approaches to correctional design and operations. The AAJ is the AIA’s Knowledge Community with expert members capable of such an initiative. Its recent white paper, ‘Sustainable Justice: Green Guide to Justice,’ is an example of results from such an initiative. It promotes systems, scale, and sustainable approaches to correctional facilities that are Smaller, Kinder and Greener, with greater opportunities for successful outcomes for staff, inmates, and communities. A similar approach involving best practices for corrections planning and design is a more effective way of inducing change and addressing advocacy rather than banning AIA members from designing specific space types. AAJ NY plans to bring a proposal to AAJ National at the 2014 AIA convention for a sub-committee to develop Best Practice Guidelines: Design for Humane, Effective Segregation.”

It was proposed and agreed that the AIA New York Chapter should promote dialogues that address the serious issues of ethics and architecture, and that plans for such discussions should be developed for the near future.

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