#NotMyAIA

UPDATED: AIA pledges to work with Donald Trump, membership recoils

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American Institute of Architects issues post-election memo saying AIA will
American Institute of Architects issues post-election memo saying AIA will "stand ready to work" with Donald Trump. Many members disagree. (Courtesy Jacob Creswick)

UPDATE: Robert Ivy, executive vice president and CEO of the AIA, responds to post-election memo criticism.

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) is drawing ire from across the architectural profession after releasing a post-election memo containing conciliatory and supportive language for President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign pledge to embark on a $500 billion infrastructure building program.

Following Tuesday’s election results, Robert Ivy, AIA executive vice president and chief executive officer, released the following statement on behalf of the national AIA apparatus and membership:

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.

While the editorial board agrees that a spirit of togetherness is vital for moving the country (and the architectural profession) forward, The Architect’s Newspaper strongly disagrees with Ivy’s conciliatory note. Our editorial board is currently gathering feedback from practitioners, luminaries, and academics in the field, and initial responses indicate that many architects strongly disagree with the tone, character, and appropriateness of Ivy’s memorandum.

It is plain to see that Donald Trump ran a racist, misogynist, and hateful campaign rooted in the forceful removal of undocumented immigrants, voter suppression targeting people of color, and xenophobic anti-Muslim profiling. The many hate crimes and acts of intimidation taking place across the country in the days since the election are a testament to the violence and racism his campaign has enlivened.

Though Trump’s campaign was relatively anemic in terms of specific, actionable policy proposals and objectives, a clear plank of the Republican candidate’s message was, Ivy correctly states, related to infrastructure, namely, the erection of a border wall separating Mexico from the United States. Very little mention was ever made by Trump, his surrogates, or his supporters for the “investments in schools, hospitals, and other public infrastructure” that Ivy cites. That line of reasoning is purely hallucinogenic and wishful thinking on the part of the AIA CEO, and an irresponsible act of complicity from someone tasked to lead a diverse, inclusive, and progressive professional organization.

It is anathema to this editorial board to fathom the positive impact of such a work of infrastructure as the proposed border wall or its attendant detention centers, federal and private prisons, and militarized infrastructure that would be necessary in order to achieve the President-elect’s stated deportation policy goals. To ignore the role design and designers could play in instituting and perpetuating the inequality inherent in the racist patriarchy of Trump’s ideology embodies is irresponsible and reprehensible.

Furthermore, the memo’s imprecise language, uncritical stance, and congratulatory tone not only willfully misunderstand the stated policy objectives of the President-elect, but in committing such a lapse in judgement, submit the 89,000-member profession to the willful service of the destructive goals stated above. All the while, it condones the violence and oppression due to be inflicted upon the communities singled out by Trump’s rhetoric—which will likely impact the AIA’s own membership as well.

The AIA’s struggles with diversity and inclusion are well-known: While the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) reported 105,847 registered architects in 2015, the Directory of African American Architects counts only 2,084 self-reported African-American members. That being said, recent years have indeed seen an increase in diversity within the profession. Demographic reports from 2015 show the highest proportion of women and people of color completing licensure requirements ever, with nearly 40 percent of newly-registered architects belonging to these groups.

Simply put, Ivy’s memo does not speak for these professionals.

We stand in opposition to the language in Ivy’s statement and in solidarity with the AIA membership that does not wish to be included in Ivy’s praise. Instead, we would like to guide our readers toward the AIA’s stated Diversity and Inclusion goals:

Leadership in design and construction requires collaboration. Architects must encourage and celebrate the contributions of those who bring diverse experiences, views, and needs into the design process.

  1. Civil rights

    The AIA supports the promotion of human and civil rights, the universal respect for human dignity, and the unbiased treatment of all persons in employment, civic, and business transactions.

  2. Diversity

    The AIA recognizes that diversity is a cultural ethos – a way of thinking or acting that fosters inclusion and enhances our membership, our profession, and the quality of life in our communities. Embracing this culture of diversity, all programs and initiatives of the AIA and its members shall reflect the society that we serve, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, physical abilities, or religious practices. The AIA supports the development of policies and programs that endeavor to ensure equal access to professional degrees in architecture for those who are underrepresented in our profession.

To join the conversation online, follow the #NotMyAIA hashtag created on Twitter by Latent Design or leave comments below. We will continue to update this story as we receive more input from architects, here are a few of the points of view shared so far:

  • “I question why this was done. What is the point of a such a general statement? The message of this letter is so general as to appear merely congratulatory and is, therefore, inappropriate. It certainly doesn’t represent me, nor, I believe, any of the architects that I know.” – Zack McKown, Tsao & McKown Architects
  • “Now more than ever we need to be cosmopolitans. We have experienced the tribalization of our political sphere through the echo chamber of social media. Our need to belong has been satisfied by our incessant connectivity and the algorithms which continually re-direct us into a self-referential vortex. The parochializing effects of our network culture were hard to foresee precisely because we may have oriented ourselves to a false horizon. As we try to overcome this nauseating reality, our cities and our institutions are critical spaces for exchange and self-reflection. The possibility of encountering other people, other values, and other needs is a vital aspect of our cities and therefore architecture. In the face of this political (possibly existential) crisis, which seems to turn us towards the past, we should dig deep into our expertise of social innovation to formulate new typologies of collectivity, new spaces of exchange, new realities, to create neo-cosmopolitan architecture. One of architecture’s greatest powers is to render aesthetic experiences that precede language, rhetoric, or even rationality. By offering aesthetic modalities and organizational possibilities, architecture becomes a tool of self-actualization that nudges us towards new ways of relating to ourselves and each other. Let’s not forget that as we construct architecture, it in turn constructs us.” – Dominic Leong
  • “The statements by the leadership of the AIA can easily and embarrassingly be construed as consistent with Van Jones’ conception of a “whitelash”, where the historically white and male dominated profession, who’s diversity is quickly changing, is now attempting to re-align itself with its historic base, rather than embrace its growing diverse constituency.Trump has announced that as part of his first 100 days in office, one of his main priorities will be blocking all federal funding to sanctuary cities. Sanctuary cities often represent the most diverse cities in the country. This suggests that the AIA endorses strategies geared towards promoting inequality by the incoming Trump administration because the $500 billion will not contribute to the much needed urban and social infrastructure improvements in the cities of Oakland, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and 25 other sanctuary cities around the United States. Ivy’s comments also suggest that their members living in those cities are no longer equally represented by the AIA.In contrast to the statement made by the AIA leadership, the International Interior Design Association (IIDA), tweeted that, because of the outcome of the recent election “designing for social reform will be more important than ever”. Three of the main initiatives of the AIA are “Diversity”, the creation of a “Center for Communities by Design,” where AIA members work with citizens and other stakeholders to envision and create more livable communities, and a “2030 Commitment” to reduce energy consumption in the built environment. If the AIA is sincere in their commitment to these initiatives, they need to align themselves to social reform and not pander to Trump’s proposed initiatives.Central to social reform, should be design that considers improvements in the poorest and fastest growing regions of our country—and one example is in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. It has been estimated that the 700 miles of borderwall currently dividing the U.S. from Mexico will require $49 billion dollars to maintain over the next 25 years. If we contextualize that amount in comparison to recent major architecture projects in the U.S., $49 billion dollars could finance 300 Seattle Public Libraries, 204 Disney Concert Halls, or 500 Miles of the High Line. Imagine if that kind of cultural investment were initiated in our borderlands and beyond, instead of proposing an additional $25 billion to construct more border walls when we live in a country where net immigration is zero.” – Ronald Rael, Associate Professor of Architecture, UC Berkeley
  • “What a mealy-mouthed kiss-ass statement! Yes, we applaud any talk about investment in infrastructure—self-serving to our profession (no, our ‘industry’)—but what about social justice, including unequal distribution of economic gain, respect for our diverse population, inequitable housing policy, health care and… the list goes on.” -Belmont Freeman, Belmont Freeman Architects
  • “It is unconscionable that the AIA would send an ‘upbeat’ message of support to a man who has spouted misogynistic, racist, xenophobic and climate change-denying views to the American public. A larger question should be raised as to which public or better yet, which ‘publics’ the AIA serves.” – Ken Saylor, Saylor+Sirola
  • “Maybe staying silent would have been more appropriate out of respect for the diversity of views held by the members—many of which find him ‘disgusting’.” – Gordon Kippling, G TECTS
  • “At this time when the country is notably divided and exploring many paths forward, AIA New York / Center for Architecture remains dedicated to our core values, which include promoting architecture and cities that are equitable, diverse, resilient and committed to improving quality of life in our communities. We are respectful and supportive of the statements made by AIA National and open to working with a range of constituents to support infrastructure initiatives and the betterment of the built environment.” – Benjamin Prosky, New York AIA / Center for Architecture
  • “AIA’s commitment to working with the president elect on making the US infrastructure great again is a positive notion, however we must be careful that in remaking of the physical infrastructure we don’t destroy the social infrastructure of this nation.” – Florian Idenburg, SO-IL
  • “All the possible interpretations of the AIA’s response to Trump’s election should make us shudder. There is: ‘We have no problem with a developer known to gleefully refuse to pay his architects.’ Or there is: ‘Who cares about economic ethics! Let’s chase that (infrastructure-headed) ambulance wherever it goes!!’ Or we also have; ‘We don’t care that you will wipe out our cities because of the sea-level rise that will result from rescinding all environmental legislation. No problem.” Or we could just have, ‘Go where the power is! We have no objection to the malignant nature of work, society, or economic equations that it brings.  Kiss up at all cost.’ Sigh. Heaven help us. This is the organization that is advocating for the profession.” – Peggy Deamer, The Architecture Lobby
  • I cannot imagine supporting the AIA statement. It is not because I do not think the USA requires an urgent address to its aging infrastructure, but because there are some fundamental roadblocks to a collaboration, or dialogue, with an incoming administration, whose modus operandi over the past two years has been to issue contradictory statements, some of which happen to have been inflammatory beyond what I would describe as civil discourse. In addition to this, the AIA seems to have issued its statement on behalf of its 89,000 members, and none of the members I have spoken to have actually endorsed this. Since I am not a member, I can speak freely only from my position.
    1. The campaign of the incoming administration did not produce any consistency of message; one could not hold the candidate to any meaningful position either. I would simply ask, how does this administration define infrastructure? The perfunctory way in which Trump has described the state of bridges, tunnels, highways and airports seems straightforward enough, but it lacks any agenda beyond the obvious motivation to create jobs. It also lacks any nuance to identify the difference between issues of health and safety, the potentials of public space, an expanded definition of what constitutes infrastructure in a digitally interactive network, and dare I say an infrastructure that has cultural qualities that one may characterize as architectural, to enumerate just a few categories for discussion. To pose these questions requires the ears of an individual who has the patience to listen, to internalize and to have the generosity of productive dialogue. We have not had the opportunity to see that candidate emerge yet in the incoming president.
    1. How will architecture, urbanism, and planning be immediately impacted by the new administration’s current thinking? At first glance, the construction of a wall between the USA and Mexico, a cornerstone of this campaign, seems to qualify as an ambitious infrastructural proposition whose potential to be realized would be as incredible as the results of the election. But beyond that, the ethical implications of this wall should be at odds with what the AIA would want to endorse. By extension, Trump’s denial of the scientific data that grounds the discussion around global warming is another point that makes debates with the candidate effectively impossible. If an intelligent engagement in discussions regarding climate change, the well-being of cities and the general state of the environment is not part of an agenda of the incoming administration, then what is all this new infrastructure meant to support in the first place?
    1. The denial of facts, the falsification of data, and the shifting ground on which the campaign has evolved is at the heart of both points #1 and #2, both of which necessitate an appeal to education and forms of discursive debate in order to advance some idea of civil engagement. The incoming administration has not yet demonstrated an appetite or aptitude for such an engagement.
    1. In those instances where the candidate was articulate, he succeeded at exercising a form of free speech that effectively marginalized other groups in any form of inclusion; this is the only consistent position and noticeable pattern in his discourse. How is it that the AIA can close its eyes to the ethical foundation on which we think we can operate as a community? Are these women, people of Mexican origin, Muslims, individuals within LGBT community, among other groups, not part of what the AIA sees as its own community? The abandonment of basic ethics in the service of cultivating a new form of patronage seems to also deny the AIA from the agency and responsibility that it should hold dear. Where will the AIA draw its lines?

    In short, I remain as shocked and perplexed as any other person in the USA right now. I was impressed by the civility of both Clinton’s concession speech and Obama’s appeal for the transition of power, but I remain unconvinced by how a civil discourse can be constructed when all foundations of inclusion have been suspended in this interim period. Building future discussions on flawed foundations is as dangerous as the violence of words adopted by the incoming administration that has brought us to this state of affairs today. – Nader Tehrani, NADAAA/Dean, Cooper Union School of Architecture

  • “I am disappointed by the lack of questioning on the many potential dangers ahead. Naturally, an organization like AIA has to be ideologically apolitical, yet maneuver with a high degree of political craftsmanship. The very nature of a system that approves or denies the standards and rules of building architecture is something that must work with larger center of political powers, such as the White House. Therefore, their response is understandable—but I am disappointed by it.

    We have a system that allowed a president to be elected who lost by 200,000 popular votes. 200,000 humans is not a small number. The very definition of gerrymandering is the redrawing of political boundaries to diminish the strength of the popular vote. We just witnessed the electoral college perform such an act on a national scale (again), and we are about to say nothing (again).

    An architect is not simply a cog to a larger machine. We do not simply execute orders—we think about the order, and respond with an even more helpful answer. Our value is in our ability to produce thoughtful reflections, and exercise our unique training to introduce a form of intelligence unlike many other professions. If architects are not willing to participate in important questions like the status of democracy today, and simply behave as a cog that does not ask questions, the quality of our future is in a state of grave danger.”  Jimenez Lai, Bureau Spectacular
  • “In the wake of AIA CEO Robert Ivy’s eagerness to work with Trump, I’ve already seen some AIA members angrily resign. As gross as Ivy’s statement is, I can say, as an Associate Member of the Baltimore chapter, that it doesn’t represent the organization that I know. In Baltimore, over the past few years, my colleagues at AIA have done things like fight for mass transit in poor neighborhoods, advocate for the historic preservation of space important to minorities, work to advance the representation of more women in the field, and sacrificed to raise funds for the education of students who would otherwise not get a chance to study architecture. Like many organizations of its size that engage with politics, much of the real work happens, and will continue to happen, locally, no matter what the leaders in Washington say.” – Fred Scharmen, Working Group on Adaptive Systems
  • “The ‘quote’ strikes me as frail, at best. No mention of energy, sustainability? No reference to our diverse AIA community? It sounds like a pandering quest for an upcoming RFP. Now is a moment when we may be able to motivate our president-elect to begin to recognize the responsibilities, the opportunities of fine architecture and design. Mr. Trump will only recognize what comes to his attention if it comes with simplicity, clarity and force.” – Andrew Tesoro, Tesoro Architects
  • “Today the AIA, claiming to speak for all its 89,000 members, released an unqualified statement committing all of us to work with the new administration. Although the next few years are sure to bring many challenges that will require architects to work with the public sector, the AIA showed a true lack of leadership by not taking a stance against the xenophobic, misogynist and generally divisive language and policies proposed by the new administration during the election process. The organization that is supposed to represent us had a chance to say that architecture will not be used as a tool to divide and oppress—it decided to pass. It is now up to each practitioner to take a stance and realize that our institutions will not necessarily keep us safe. We have to make it clear that the border wall and any other proposed infrastructure of oppression are to be rejected and not an opportunity to increase the bottom line.” – Quilian Riano, DSGN AGNC
  • “‘The AIA and its 89,000 members are committed to working with President-elect Trump…’ I can’t think of a better analogy for the relationship between what when wrong with this election and the problems facing our profession in the future.With 89,000 members the AIA represents a small, white and older demographic within the architecture population, it does not represent or reflect our emerging practice’s values and neither does the, technically, elected Trump administration.We are being offered a huge opportunity to rethink where we want to invest our time and energy as architects. Do we want to continue to take a back seat in larger political movements, be focused on largely formal endeavors, or, are we interested in the dirty and complicated work of community building? And we are going to have to get real, we need to stop pretending we are more like our clients than like the trades people we coordinate. Our future isn’t chic…nor is it a feel good, cutesy story. It’s complicated and I’m really excited about that.”- Elizabeth Timme, LA-Más
  • “We need a different infrastructure letter from the AIA to Donald Trump. In light of the hate that he has unleashed against our communities, and his hostility to science and reason, we should demand nothing less than justice, freedom, equality, and safety for every person in this country, and immediate action on climate change, which we owe to our children and to the world.” – Mark Yoes, AIA LEED AP, WXY Architecture+Urban Design
  • “To pay fealty– in the name of some hoped for economic privileges– to a racist, bigoted misogynistic fear monger and a climate change denier is an abrogation of the AIA’s historical legacy and the very purpose of its establishment in 1857, that is: ‘…to promote the artistic, scientific, and practical profession of its members; to facilitate their intercourse and good fellowship; to elevate the standing of the profession.’Architecture is by its very nature a deeply political, economic and social art.  Yet it must always exceed the politics of its day and it must continually reject the direct influence of the immediate political climate.Architecture is not the art of politics or the art of economics.  It is its own cultural discipline and it is NEVER a tool of the developer turned demagogue. No individual or influence group may dictate architecture’s role in society and it is never the Architect’s [sic] role to bend to any politician’s ambitions, real or false.The discipline of architecture has withstood every form of political influence over time. Architecture’s acts are by their very nature ahistorical, that is timeless.  After 11/9 Architecture and architects must continue to hew to more timeless demands: environmental and communal responsibility,  artistic and intellectual freedom and disciplinary precedent.Architecture must remain beyond power, beyond fear and beyond prejudice.  I strongly reject the AIA’s unilaterally issued statement and I request that the body retract the statement immediately on behalf of it’s members.”  Peter Zellner, ZELLNERandCompany
  • “At this historic moment it is abundantly clear that design for the public realm is a critical form of activism. Designers and citizens should work together towards public endeavors that help create a more just and equitable society and resist all efforts to disenfranchise. We must protest the fracturing of our society through any policies intended to do so and we must work to unite the country through civically-minded and inclusive design.” – Nadine Maleh, Institute for Public Architecture
  • “We cannot let ourselves be defined by our commissions. If history tells us anything it is that. Shame on Robert Ivy and AIA National for not leading with values. His letter defining Infrastructure as ‘schools, hospitals and other public infrastructure’ exposes the reality that many still don’t recognize. It is not about building, it’s about what we build; That we all have a stake in the planning and design of the systems that we share. These are the lessons of the environmental justice movement that have shaped where we are today much more than our professional societies.
    It’s a pity that we aren’t using this time to recognize who we serve. Once again we have missed the chance to change people’s minds about the role of equal access to public space and public life. If AIANational is really concerned about impacting lives one of the first things they should have written a letter to the President-elect about is dismantling ‘job creation’ programs like the private prison industry and stating our priorities as social justice and the protection of our planet.” – Claire Weisz, WXY architecture+urban design
  • “Our public spaces are under attack. 

The political fora of generations past are no longer arenas to sponsor agonistic discourse, but are now instead sanitized spaces for the replication of self-insulating ideologies. Monitored, surveilled, patrolled, the public realm of the contemporary city has become a victim of spatial instruments of suppression. Exclusion zones at sites of protest dictate exactly where and what type of dissent is allowed.

The range is narrow.

Police reclaim a twenty-one-foot boundary around potentially aggressive bodies, legitimizing the use of lethal force within a circumscribed, ambiguous, and mobile territory. Anyone within range is recast as a potential suspect.  Violence is a presumed mode of interaction. The military has co-opted the city as a space for training, imagining and foreshadowing future insurrections. They arrive unannounced in civilian neighborhoods, which fit their models as hotbeds of likely resistance. They use ubiquitous public infrastructures to surreptitiously watch for otherwise imperceptible signs of dissent.

Public life is threatened.

We as spatial practitioners must identify, engage with, and act to reverse the forces that seek to limit public life and public space further.

The AIA, in its recent announcement, is enthusiastic about working with Trump on the country’s infrastructure—without questioning the origin of this spending.  It has failed to identify threats to public life as befitting the profession.

In his so-called ‘Contract with the American Voter,’ Donald Trump promises that during his first one hundred days in office he will ‘cancel billions in payments to U.N. climate change programs and use the money to fix America’s water and environmental infrastructure.’

The AIA says nothing of the infrastructure’s cost to the progress of global climate initiatives, or the human cost of those affected by climate change. It pledges the unflinching support of its 89,000 members with no mention of if or how that consensus was reached. We question how the AIA, as an organization, has presumed to represent and thereby flatten the political will of its individual members. With its statement, cloaked in the deceptive language of neutrality, the AIA has in fact forced a political mandate on its members: ignore climate change and support infrastructural spending.

Architects, even those within the organization, must retain the ability to act on their own judgment, in the public interest, and not be susceptible to such doctrinal mandates from the professional institutions to which they happen to belong.

The AIA announcement is at best short-sighted and at worst an opportunistic overreach of the AIA leadership, offering its members as ready and willing servants of the impending economic and industrial restructuring of the domestic landscape—whatever that may be.

When an institution assumes control of all its members’ opinions without inviting debate, when it commits itself to as-yet-unspecified agendas, and ignores the human and environmental costs of its pledged actions, that institution is not neutral – it is complicit with the forces which seek to limit public life. We must remind ourselves that totalitarian regimes look to architects to build their image of strength and legacy without questioning the costs, and that to collaborate is to normalize those systems.” Ersela Kripa + Stephen Mueller, AGENCY

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