AIA board prohibits members from designing incarceration spaces

The American Institute of Architects’ (AIA’s) Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct will prohibit the design of spaces intended for execution, torture, and prolonged solitary confinement. Photo © BigStockPhoto.com
The American Institute of Architects’ (AIA’s) Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct will prohibit the design of spaces intended for execution, torture, and prolonged solitary confinement.
Photo © BigStockPhoto.com

The American Institute of Architects’ (AIA’s) board of directors approved new rules to the institute’s Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct prohibiting members from knowingly designing spaces intended for execution and torture.

The board’s position is the design of such spaces is inconsistent with the profession’s fundamental responsibility to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public and uphold human rights.

The prohibition extends to spaces meant for indefinite or prolonged solitary confinement of prisoners for 22 hours or more per day without meaningful human contact, for more than 15 consecutive days.

“We are committed to promoting the design of a more equitable and just built world that dismantles racial injustice and upholds human rights,” said Jane Frederick, FAIA, AIA 2020 president. “Specifically, AIA members are required to uphold the health, safety, and welfare of the public. Spaces for execution, torture, and prolonged solitary confinement contradict those values. This decision emphasizes AIA’s commitment to making a difference on this issue and upholding human rights for our society.”

A statement of position was also adopted by the board stating the AIA and its members:

  • remain committed to working with their clients to promote criminal justice reform and rehabilitation, guided in part by positions taken by the International Red Cross, the United Nations, and other human rights organizations;
  • remain focused on design solutions to promote rehabilitation to address issues impacting recidivism such as mental health, healthcare, housing, education, and employment; and
  • strive to ensure the physical needs, health, dignity, and human potential of all those who come in contact with the justice system are respected and given the opportunity to flourish.

“This, among other things, reflects AIA’s ongoing effort to meaningfully address structural racism in the built environment and to uphold our professional values,” the organization said in a press release.

AIA will create a task group to better define restorative justice in the context of the profession, collaborate with its partners to identify best practices, and develop resources and educational opportunities for members over the next several months.

AIA has considered the role of architects in the design of spaces for execution and prolonged solitary confinement for a number of years and most recently engaged with the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), Architects/Planners/Designers for Social Responsibility, and the Academy of Architecture for Justice, an AIA knowledge community, to gain more understanding of these issues and the larger context of justice through design, the press release said. In July, the board directed the AIA National Ethics Council to re-examine the issue. This followed the AIA’s statement on racial injustice in June prompted by social movements, demands for justice, and the nation’s unprecedented reckoning with inequity.

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25 comments on “AIA board prohibits members from designing incarceration spaces”

  1. The AIA applauds Zaha Hadid doing a major port renovation in China (remember China???, repression, political prisoners, EXECUTIONS, cyber terrorism, Hong Kong, south china sea, intellectual property thief)at the same time it prohibits (LOL) it’s member from designing place of incarceration that might be misused.

  2. I’ve been a member of the AIA for almost forty years and I have disagreed with many of the “touchy-feely” policies implemented by this “politically correct” organization for several years. However, being prohibited from designing jails and prisons merely because the AIA feels this is necessary is my proverbial “final straw”.
    Jails and prisons are inherently necessary for those who violate the laws and regulations deemed important and required to provide the health, safety, and welfare of those of us who choose to abide by the laws of the land. It is incredibly condescending and morally corrupt to prohibit architects from participating in projects and working with clients merely because the AIA views these project types as “bad for society”.
    I have been in this profession since the mid 70’s and watched as our society slowly denigrated to the divisive and hate-filled nation of today wherein morals, ethics, values, and behavior based on biblical principles is viewed as racist and intolerant. Having also been in ministry for over a decade, I will always prefer to abide by that which is in the Bible, the written word of God, rather than follow those who are seemingly out of touch with that which is noble and correct.

    1. “However, being prohibited from designing jails and prisons…” That’s not what it says. You can design jails and prisons as long as you’re not designing spaces intended for execution and torture.

      1. I agree with Mr. DeKarske. It would seem the author of the CSI article is intentionally using a misleading and incendiary article title. Is there a hidden agenda here?

        1. So when people are to be executed we shall be doing it in a public square? What is the point the AIA is presenting? One day they may say that having a toilet in a house is against some odd notion they have, so we will have to design houses without bathrooms. Whatever! I am so sick and tired of these politics. I am seriously considering not renewing my membership.

      2. Any prison with an isolation ward, a segmented unit or solitary would be a problem now. They have defined any place a person is keep for more than 22 hours for 15 days. Almost every large prison has at least one of these if not all 3. Any prison that had even 1 prisoner that could not be placed in the “general population” would break this rule. The good point is this new rule will have no impact in the real world. The firms that specialize in this very lucrative work will just ignore it. AIA will virtue signal.

    2. I am in full agreement with you Mr. Resnicke and the other responses above. I have been a licensed architect for many years but never a member of AIA. That just saves me the trouble of dropping a membership in an organization that’s involved in personal political agendas.

    3. Between 2%-10% of people in prison are wrongly convicted. These are innocent citizens, typically impoverished and/or non-white, who are not served justly by the system in which they are expected to serve.

      For example George Stinny Jr. was found not-guilty after his execution, but he was killed at 14 years old by electric chair. How many others are like him? And why is it more important for architecture to serve criminals who have enough money to get out of trouble/prison?

      I think this is an honest attempt at refocusing our efforts towards justice and design that serves ALL Americans, not just the wealthy.

      If you think about it, prisons don’t just house the guilty and those who are a threat to you and your family. They house innocent people and people who are too poor to get out of trouble. There are still plenty of criminals walking your streets who just got away with it. This article is a great start to the discussion of how architecture can serve more than just the 1%.

      1. Kamilah,

        As architects, we are all about process, standards of practice, and fiduciary service. While the AIA is instrumental in outlining all three and is appropriately in its place to address same, It does not function as a judicial, or social ethics arm of our society. Would you ban architects from working for banks because some banks i.e. Wells Fargo, have had predatory practices. I think your guilty or innocent argument has the same fault. It is simply not our place as architects to individually judge where our society is just or not. That is the place of our courts, legislatures, and executive branches of government. There is work to do there, the AIA should not be grandstanding to stir up discussion where the impact is so small, on populations that they only touch third hand through books, studies, and policy committees. I suggest that our AIA leaders get into these neighborhoods, volunteer to build something that improves the lives of people living there, like many of their socially conscious members do, and not focus on these controversial stands. Then they may get a feel for what socially conscious initiatives that architects can participate in are truly effective, and then promote those initiatives. Better use of time and resources in my view.

    4. I fully support your position. Let us all remember that we are Architects, not Social Engineers, which is where our left leaning “leaders” are trying to move us. At 74, AIA Emeritus, I am 99% retired and care not what the AIA thinks. The whole green movement is complete trash. I have been practicing sustainable architecture since 1972 BEFORE it became a buzzword. I fully support your notion of following the Christian concepts that the Bible teaches. Lord bless you.

  3. This sounds more like a political position, since it seems geared towards “structural racism,” as opposed to basic human decency. While execution chambers are abhorrent to many (I am opposed to capital punishment), it is still a building function that will continue to be addressed by SOMEONE. And it is a slippery slope to get into specifics regarding solitary confinement. That particular subject is better left to mental health professionals and state legislatures.

  4. Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time…whatever it is as determined by the State’s Laws and the criminal justice system.

    While I agree with a position of prohibiting knowingly designing spaces intended for torture, prohibition of designing spaces meant for execution, indefinite or prolonged solitary confinement of prisoners is ludicrous!

    There are some persons who have no inclination to show respect for the general public at-large or other persons whom they are incarcerated with. Some persons are just BAD by nature and if they commit a crime and are incarcerated should be placed in solitary confinement or executed, according to the State’s laws, to prevent future harm to other persons that they may come into contact with.

  5. Generally speaking, the AIA really has no business deciding who or what is socially responsible. As Mr. Coleman stated above, AIA members will not be able to work on most projects outside the US.

    These people have way too much time on their hands.

  6. Loophole: Have the client provide in writing their intention that spaces will be used for solitary confinement of prisoners for less than 22 hours per day for not more than 15 consecutive days.

  7. The American Institute of Architects was founded in New York City in 1857 by a group of 13 architects to “promote the scientific and practical perfection of its members” and “elevate the standing of the profession.” The AIA today has veered far away from its original mission. I don’t believe in the death penalty or solitary confinement in principle, but the AIA has real chutzpah to ban members from designing anything. They want to be so politically correct they can no longer see the forest for the trees. I guess the design of execution rooms will be left in the capable hands of electrical engineers.

    1. No it will just be done by people who save the almost $300 for national dues along with the local and state dues. A little over $600 for many they can use that money to take the state or CoreCivic project manager out to a real nice lunch…

  8. Sadly, I think, the AIA may leave themselves wide open for a restraint of trade lawsuit. A similar “restraint” that prevented Architects from being Contractors, as John Portman in Atlanta was practicing at the time, brought suit to AIA which they lost, requiring a revision to their Ethics documents. I would rather see good principles of human centered design being applied to these spaces – make it better!

  9. That will very hard to prove. There nothing wrong with incarceration and torture. Just so long it is the RIGHT people being tortured….Like 911 suspects and someone who has killed one of YOUR FAMILY MEMBERS. As a retired special forces operator it save lives. The AIA needs to grow a pair and stop being squeamish. I would love to have a happy go lucky world where it is peaceful, it aint happening in our lifetime. So get used to it . We have been and will continue to be at war with terrorists or does the AIA have a short memory since 911. What happened to independent minded strong willed men in the US? ……They are dwindling.

  10. After all of this coming from the AIA, I am thinking about making prison design my specialty and let them reject me and pay me back all these years that I have been paying for my membership.

  11. well, then,…since the pediatrics profession has called out the separation of immigrant children from their families as torture, then the AIA’s admonition applies to detention facilities where separated families are “held”.

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