As professors and educators of architecture, we are charged with educating the next generation of architects and designers. A degree in architecture imparts not only disciplinary knowledge and skill sets but also a foundation in professional ethics that we expect to guide students throughout their careers in practice. It is the faculty who are entrusted to develop students’ passion for architecture and impress upon them their responsibilities as designers: guarding public health, safety and welfare; acting as responsible stewards of the environment; and practicing design responsibly. We have long held the AIA Code of Ethics to be central to the ethical responsibilities of architects (even for non-AIA members), and we appreciate that it requires members to “uphold human rights in all their professional endeavors” (Ethical Standard 1.4). We believe that it is now important to realize this stated commitment to human rights by adding a rule to prohibit the design of buildings intended to house human rights violations – specifically executions and solitary confinement – as proposed by of Architects / Designers / Planners for Social Responsibility (ADPSR).
Professional ethics are not just a matter of personal preferences and legally mandated minimum standards, but a defining responsibility of the architectural profession that distinguishes us from unlicensed actors who have other roles in design and construction. We teach our students to act with an ethical standard that puts the public good first. Understanding and protecting human rights is a central part of the public good and of professional ethics. ADPSR has presented a convincing case that a small number of buildings in the United States house activities that constitute human rights violations by design (see http://www.adpsr.org/home/ethics_reform). These spaces are execution chambers and prisons where solitary confinement is used on juveniles, the mentally ill, or on anyone else for a prolonged period of time, as in “supermax” prisons. Architects should understand the ethical problems with designing these buildings and should not be involved in helping to further the unacceptable behavior inside. We must not use our design skills and technical knowledge to help kill, torture, or degrade other people -- even those convicted of serious crimes. Having clarity on this topic in the AIA Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct is essential to our ability to help students understand their professional responsibilities. We trust that when AIA takes up this question you will support the advancement of respect for human rights in our profession and adopt the proposed amendment.
* If you are not a professor or educator in architecture, please sign ADPSR's related petition at tinyurl.com/aiaethics.