Architects, Silence, and Human Rights

As some of you may know, I am on the board of Architects Designers and Planners for Social Responsibility, which is a professional organization that advocates for ethical practices in both the social and environmental arenas of design, architecture, landscape architecture, and planning.  Our president, architect Raphael Sperry, has been leading the organization for the last two years in petitioning  the American Institute of Architects(AIA)  to amend the Human Rights Standard of their Code of Ethics to prohibit the design of spaces intended for torture or killing (in effect, execution chambers and supermax prisons that use solitary isolation.)


Sadly, late last year the AIA indicated that they will take no action to address the participation of architects in designs intended to degrade, torture, or kill people.

 “The AIA Code of Ethics should not exist to create limitations on the practice by AIA members of specific building types. The AIA Code of Ethics is more about desirable practices and attitudes than condemnation,”

Raphael Sperry’s op-ed on CNN  and a very powerful piece in the New York Times on this disappointing decision summarize AIA’s narrow and legalist arguments against human rights and present ADPSR’s forceful response.

Ferguson protest,New York. Carlo Allegri_Reuters

Ferguson protest,New York. Carlo Allegri_Reuters

I was hopeful that in the wake of the changes we see happening in criminal justice policy that the AIA would be part of this shift. I also thought that the leaders of my professional organization would have the courage to make this much needed change in our code of ethics given that the Black Lives Matter movement has initiated the first honest dialogues on race we have had since the civil rights movement.

Ferguson protest-Oakland.Stephen Lam_Reuters

Ferguson protest-Oakland.Stephen Lam_Reuters

Perhaps many in the AIA are ignorant( either willfully or because of the blinders of race, class, and gender privilege) of the fact that a disproportionate amount of those who are executed and who find themselves in solitary confinement are men of color. They should consider that the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture has stated that long-term solitary confinement is a form of torture and a violation of human rights. The United Nations has urged the United States to desist in its use of death and long-term solitary confinement as a form of punishment and control in our prisons. It is public knowledge that these practices are racist, dehumanizing and violate human rights so why would my profession condone our participation in the creation of these spaces as an ethical practice when so many other professionals including doctors, psychologists have not? Why do we remain silent?

DJDS Re-envisioning Justice Architecture 140827

Perhaps it is the shocking lack of minorities (including women) represented in the leadership positions of our profession or our tendency to be a bit self-absorbed. What I know is that the AIA has always been a conservative organization and sadly does not represent my values. I know that we have a long way to go in reducing the fear we have of the other and the discomfort that comes with changing our identity as well as the economics of business. That said, the arc of justice is also long and there are many leaders in our profession who believe this decision was made in error. The AIA may decide to adopt this amendment to our code of ethics in time.  However, what is right and what is wrong here will still be the same.

ADSPR Exhibit: Willie Worley, Jr. Brown Creek Correctional Institute in Polkton, NC

ADSPR Exhibit: Willie Worley, Jr. Brown Creek Correctional Institute in Polkton, NC

ADPSR continues to advocate for changing the AIA ‘s code of ethics to prohibit the design of spaces intended for torture or killing and if you would like to support this work please sign our petition or join ADPSR . We are stronger in great numbers!



ADPSR Exhibit: "Architect's Dream" by Aron D Castlin and Ricky D Matthews, Pelican Bay D-I in Crescent City, CA

ADPSR Exhibit: “Architect’s Dream” by Aron D Castlin and Ricky D Matthews, Pelican Bay D-I in Crescent City, CA


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