The AIA’s formal statement, and follow-up, in response to Donald J. Trump’s election has elicited outrage within the architecture community. Architects, AIA-members and not, feel that the organization has failed to represent their interests, choosing instead to cooperate with what many equate to a fascist regime, and in so doing has compromised the entire profession. Architects have taken to social media to air their concerns and organize their own responses—we’ll be updating this piece with more statements as the issue evolves, and collecting them all over here. Share your thoughts with us by submitting to the news here.
Shortly following the election of Mr. Trump to the office of the President of the United States, Robert Ivy, Chief Executive Officer of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), wrote:
The AIA and its 89,000 members are committed to working with President-elect Trump to address the issues our country faces, particularly strengthening the nation’s aging infrastructure. During the campaign, President-elect Trump called for committing at least $500 billion to infrastructure spending over five years. We stand ready to work with him and with the incoming 115th Congress to ensure that investments in schools, hospitals and other public infrastructure continue to be a major priority.”
“We also congratulate members of the new 115th Congress on their election. We urge both the incoming Trump Administration and the new Congress to work toward enhancing the design and construction sector’s role as a major catalyst for job creation throughout the American economy.”
“This has been a hard-fought, contentious election process. It is now time for all of us to work together to advance policies that help our country move forward.
Almost immediately, the American architecture community reacted on Twitter and other social media, largely decrying the unilateral expression of support for the controversial President-elect. The AIA bills itself as “the voice of the architecture profession and the resource for our members in service to society.” However, Mr. Ivy published the statement without consulting the 89,000 members for whom he claims to speak. Most of the criticism centered around Mr. Trump’s comments and policy proposals that have been widely considered racist, sexist, homophobic, and xenophobic, which some architects believe express a position antithetical to the central tenants of the profession of architecture. Additionally, Mr. Trump denies the reality of anthropogenic climate change, which many architects—as well as scientists—believe represents on the most serious threats to both the built environment and humanity at large.
The most visible displays of discontent surfaced on Twitter, where architects quickly began to employ the hashtag #notmyAIA, echoing the popular chant “Not my president,” which has been used in protests of the election. It seems the first use of the hashtag came from @Latent_Design:
Are you looking to serve as the next Albert Speer,” asked @ArchitectGlass. Others also made reference to Speer, one of the most prominent architects of the Third Reich, which infamously weaponized architecture as an expression of ideology. Soon, the story was picked up by Archinect, Dezeen and other media outlets such as the Architect’s Newspaper.
QSPACE, “a platform for research projects by students and professionals working on queerness in the built environment”, quickly released a statement, describing Mr. Ivy’s statement as “unnecessary, tone deaf, and an insult to marginalized groups within the architectural field”. QSPACE, and others, noted that the expression of support seems to contradict the AIA’s ethics policies, which state that members “shall not discriminate in their professional activities on the basis of race, religion, gender, national origin, age, disability, or sexual orientation.”
While some claim that Mr. Trump tacitly supports the LGBTQ community—he made reference to their existence during the Republican national convention—he ran on what has been described as the most explicitly anti-LGBTQ political platform in United States history. His Vice President, Mike Pence, has described homosexuality as a type of behavior “that facilitate[s] the spread of the HIV virus.” Mr. Pence opposed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act, same-sex marriage and civil unions. He has support conversion therapy, a controversial and scientifically-unsupported practice intended to impose heterosexuality through means including electroshock therapy. Other advisors to President-elect Trump have been recorded employing gay slurs and anti-LGBTQ sentiments.
The Architecture Lobby, “a collective of architectural workers advocating for the value of the labor required to design, construct and occupy architecture”, quickly released a statement as well. The Lobby “unequivocally” denounced the AIA’s statement, noting, among other things, that the statement expressing support for President-Elect Trump’s infrastructure plan tacitly expresses support for the so-called “border wall”. The border wall, which would stretch across the southern border of the United States, is intended to stop the flow of undocumented immigrants. It served as a central proposal in the Trump campaign, and since election, President-elect Trump has vowed that it would be one of the first initiatives of his administration.
Soon the #NotmyAIA hashtag began to include wider denouncements of AIA practices. For example, Keefer Dunn tweeted, “it's not just the Trump thing, AIA's arcane attitude re: antitrust compliance is central to architecture's value crises.” Other architects, such as Cathy Braasch, pledged they would not renew their membership of the AIA, instead donating the money to charity.
Michael Sorkin, the prominent architect and critic, published a long missive condemning the letter. “While his words appear anodyne and reflect the judicious position and celebration of America’s history of peaceful transitions of power articulated by both President Obama and Hillary Clinton,” writes Sorkin, “they are an embarrassment to those of us who feel that the Trump presidency represents a clear and present danger to many values that are fundamental to both our nation and our profession.” Sorkin’s letter includes five points that he advocates as measures by which to evaluate Trump’s actions.
Michael Kimmelman, the architecture critic for the New York Times, likewise tweeted a denouncement of the AIA’s position:
The Equity Alliance, “a platform to promote the conservation of equitable practice in architecture and allied professions in the built environment”, also published a statement. “We are ashamed that our professional organization decided that the prospect of public commissions for a very few of us was important enough to silence concerns about the specter of an anti-elitist society defined by racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and the denial of science,” they wrote.
Likewise, Maryam Eskandari of MIIM Designs published an open letter against the AIA statement. Referencing the historic complicity of architects, particularly Le Corbusier, with the corporatist state of Benito Mussolini and other authoritarian regimes, Eskandari writes that the AIA’s statement will “have a huge impact for the next generation of young architects coming into the practice.”
Cheryl Noel of the Chicago-based studio Wrap Architecture sent us a statement, including in it personal experiences of sexism in the profession. In the letter, Noel condemns sexist remarks by Mr. Trump as well as in the architecture profession, among other things. “There are moments in time when we are presented with choices, choices that define who we are. Who will we choose to be?” Noel asks.
The group Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility, which “works for peace, environmental protection, ecological building, social justice, and the development of healthy communities”, created a Change.org petition, calling for architects to commit to “protecting human rights”. The petition can be found here.
Mitzi Vernon, Dean of the College of Design at the University of Kentucky wrote:
At the heart of a talk given by architect, Manuel Aires Mateus in 2013 was the idea of the idea. As he spoke about the ephemeral nature of the built world and the recovery of ruins, he was asking, in the end, what do we leave behind?
Ideas are the only thing that may survive us. So, we must be careful what we build because the ruin is often our mark. The Great Wall of China, the Berlin Wall, the long history of medieval city walls…these are ideas of exclusion that are built into the landscape and survive. Are there city walls in the United States, a country wall? One could argue that we are formed by an idea that is precisely opposite.
As for universities, it is our mission to offer unhindered passage (academic freedom) for students and teachers in the quest for ideas. We are fortunate at the University of Kentucky to have a president, Eli Capilouto, who is an unparalleled and formidable champion of inclusiveness. As the author, Stephen Greenblatt reminds us, “libraries, museums and schools are fragile institutions.” We might do well to re-read the history of Alexandria, Rome and the survival of an idea – Lucretius’ On the Nature of Things.
In our digital era the infrastructure of our ideas is captured by the binary system of 1s and 0s, indelibly it seems. We must be careful of this infrastructure as well. What we say is also what we leave behind.
While these comments have not been shared prior with my constituents in the College of Design, I hope that I have not unfairly represented my colleagues and those that I serve.
Media outlets that are not specifically oriented around architecture, including Quartz and Fast.Co Design, have also begun to pick up the story.
We recognize that the current, post-election environment is unique and has aroused strong and heartfelt feelings within all communities, including that of AIA membership. In this context, our recent statement in support of design and construction’s future role with the new Administration has been viewed with concern by a number of our colleagues.
The AIA, a bi-partisan organization with strong values, reasserts our commitment to a fair and just society, and also respects the right of each member to his or her political beliefs, knowing that we are all united in our desire to contribute to the well-being and success of our nation and our world.
The AIA remains firmly committed to advocating for the values and principles that will create a more sustainable, inclusive and humane world. The spirit and intention behind our statement is consistent with and in support of President Obama’s eloquent call for us all to unite for the best interest of America’s future.
For the most part, architects seem to agree that Mr. Ivy equivocates in the statement rather than clarifying or withdrawing his earlier statement. Mr. Ivy cites President Obama’s controversial call for unity after the election. While President Obama must ensure the peaceful transition of power in accordance with American democratic tradition, Mr. Ivy does not have such a responsibility.
We’ll be updating this post with more responses and developments as they come in. In the meantime, submit your response to AIA’s statement of support for Mr. Trump here and in our poll.
2:50 p.m.: Tamara Roy of the Boston Society of Architects/AIA published a letter on November 9th, expressing the group's "shock and disappointment" with Mr. Ivy's statement of support for Trump. "The conciliatory and congratulatory tone of last week’s message in response to the election is at odds with the very goals and values articulated by the AIA," Roy writes.
3:00 p.m.: The AIA Chicago Board of Directors released a statement on November 14th stating that the organization "wants to assure our members that we do not support the recent statement made by national AIA on November 10, which prematurely expressed the support of AIA’s 89,000 members for an unarticulated infrastructure agenda made by the incoming presidential administration."
3:10 p.m.: A large group of students from the Yale School of Architecture published a statement “unequivocally [denouncing] the AIA’s endorsement of the new status quo.” They write: For too long, our profession has been complicit in giving form to landscapes of inequality and discrimination, and has itself been plagued by a history of racial and gender inequity. The AIA’s immediate and unquestioning pandering to the Trump administration threatens a continuation of our troubled past and demonstrates a willingness to pursue financial gain at the expense of our values.
5:30 p.m.: Mr. Ivy has spoken to Architectural Record by phone, stating: First, we say we’re sorry. I mean that sincerely. I say that we’re sorry we’ve hurt and angered our constituents…We have definitely listened and heard people within the community. They have spoken loudly and clearly. This has been an election unlike any that any of us has experienced, and unfortunately the statement that we issued hurt and angered many people…If it sounded as if we approve of the election results, that was not its intention. The AIA never endorses political candidates.
Tuesday, November 15, 2016
9:15 a.m.: Mr. Ivy, alongside the 2016 AIA President Russell Davidson, issued a video statement apologizing for the statement. Watch it here:
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Paul Petrunia is the founder and director of Archinect, a (mostly) online publication/resource founded in 1997 to establish a more connected community of architects, students, designers and fans of the designed environment. Outside of managing his growing team of writers, editors, designers and ...