Barbara Res, the former vice president of construction for the Trump Organization, recently published an op-ed in the New York Daily News, which alleges that Donald Trump once pressured an architect to remove the braille signage from the elevators in Trump Tower in New York City. Res, who supervised the construction of the Manhattan skyscraper in the early 1980s, recalled being present as one of its architects showed Trump the newly installed elevator cabs. She says Trump was puzzled by the little raised dots on the button panel and demanded that they be taken off. When informed that braille was required by the Americans with Disabilities Act, the future president of the United States became furious. “Get rid of the [expletive] braille. No blind people are going to live in Trump Tower,” she remembered him shouting. “The more the architect protested, the angrier Trump got…As a general rule, Trump thought architects and engineers were weak as compared to construction people. And he loved to torment weak people,” wrote Res, a professional engineer. She went on to explain that this was a typical "Trump-style win-win," which allowed him to belittle a subordinate while setting up a scapegoat for any repercussions his "ridiculous orders" may bring. Although Res did not identify the architect, many have speculated that it was Der Scutt, the tower’s lead designer, who died in 2010. The firm responsible for the project, Poor, Swanke, Hayden & Connell, changed principals several times in the years that followed and filed for bankruptcy in 2015, making it difficult to corroborate the story. However, as noted by Snopes, a fact-checking website, neither the White House nor the Trump Organization have refuted it. For those familiar with president’s history of ableist comments, his organization’s suspected housing discrimination, and his administration’s hard-line position against health and safety regulations, these new allegations come as no surprise.
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Architect Costas Kondylis, the prolific designer behind over 86 buildings in Manhattan, died Friday at age 78, according to The Real Deal. The cause of death has not yet been announced. Kondylis was best known as one of Donald Trump’s closest and most frequent collaborators in New York City. He designed the 90-story Trump World Tower, formerly the world’s tallest residential structure, in Midtown East for the real estate mogul as well as the Trump International Hotel and Tower at Columbus Circle, and several buildings at Trump Place on Riverside Boulevard. While Kondylis’s extensive resume reveals a handful of projects associated with Trump, the architect’s 50 years designing in New York included countless high-rise designs for various local developers. Born in Central Africa, Kondylis studied in his parent’s home country of Greece before earning a graduate degree at the University of Geneva in Switzerland. After finishing his second masters at Columbia University in 1967, he began working for Davis Brody & Associates. While employed by Philip Birnbaum & Associates, he designed his first notable building, Manhattan Place Condo, in 1984. As one of the first high-rise condo projects in the city, as well as one of the few to focus on luxury design at the time, it caught the eye of Trump who was then expanding his New York building empire. Five years later, Kondylis launched his own firm, Costas Kondylis and Partners in 1989. During this busy time in his career, he designed 65 buildings—one building every six weeks—from 2000 to 2007, TRD reported. Once the practice dissolved two decades later, Kondylis started his own firm, Kondylis Design. It’s argued that Kondylis influenced the New York skyline more than any other architect in history. His more recent projects, Silver Towers, River Place, and Atelier, all towering residential properties, have helped shape the newly-developed far west side of Manhattan. He was largely recognized as the “developer’s architect,” a term he grew to embrace, having worked well with everyone from Silverstein Properties to Moinian Group to Vornado Realty Trust and Related Companies. Though his work was usually on time and on budget, it wasn’t highly favored by critics who saw his large-scale structures as too conventional. Larry Silverstein told The New York Times in a 2007 interview that Kondylis’s name is almost synonymous with the city’s condominium architecture. “He designs an attractive, buildable, functional building,” he said. “If I’m going to do a residential building in New York, the most natural thing in the world is to pick up the phone and call Costas.” Kondylis repeatedly stated that his primary goal was always to please the client. He was regarded as one of the most professional, humble, and patient architects in the business despite criticism or praise of his work. Kondylis died last week in his home and is survived by his two daughters, Alexia and Katherine. A service in his honor is scheduled for October.
A group of American manufacturers has developed a new strategy to get their message to President Trump. Knowing that the president regularly watches a handful of programs on Fox, a trade organization has bought airtime for 30-second ads during the president's favorite shows to promote the group's messages. Bloomberg reported on a campaign from the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) that debuted this month and encourages Trump to follow through on his campaign promise to create a massive national infrastructure spending program. The ad plays a clip of Trump's campaign victory speech when he said, "We’re going to rebuild our infrastructure." Another AEM ad from earlier this year encouraged the president and congressional leaders to reject steel tariffs, saying that they would harm equipment manufacturers. The clips show blue-collar workers speaking directly to the camera, often explicitly addressing the president. The steel tariff ad begins with a worker saying, "Mr. President, thanks to you, equipment manufacturing right here in Illinois is growing stronger." After a bit more ego-boosting, the workers then say that tariffs would undo the support that the president has shown industrial workers. Trump is known to be an avid television-watcher and reportedly insists on watching several Fox programs every day. The spots will run during programs like Fox and Friends, The Sean Hannity Show, and Tucker Carlson Tonight. According to Bloomberg, AEM plans to spend $250,000 on the infrastructure campaign.
1 We landed in Houston two weeks before the storm. For newcomers to Texas, Hurricane Harvey provided a terrifying crash course in the geography and hydrology of the city, its micro-differences in topography and macro-differences in resources across the city’s communities. We were told that after the water receded, nothing would be the same, that the magnitude and destruction of the storm would simply be too hard to ignore. Yet less than a year later, as rebuilding continues on the verge of another hurricane season, it is hard to see how much—if anything—has changed for the better. Money was spent reconstructing homes on their original sites, and large-scale infrastructures that were designed to flood, like Buffalo Bayou Park, have performed admirably well as examples for designing resilient landscapes in Houston and elsewhere. A slew of well-intentioned policy reports were issued in the wake of Harvey, many reiterating similar proposals that preceded the storm, seemingly to little avail. The heuristic measures of the so-called 500-year event were questioned in light of a new reality in which such mega-storms will now be separated by years, not centuries. And then the city went back, it seems, to the combination of development and dread that has apparently become the new normal. 2 I came to Houston expecting to tap into a rich body of urban writing from the late 1970s to the 2000s that placed the city firmly at the center of broader attempts to theorize the contemporary metropolis. These formed part of what Joel Warren Barna described as “a long American tradition of minority reports” in which the social, political, economic, and psychological dimensions of architecture and the city were probed. Houston’s horizontal field provided an ideal environment for such speculations. For Joe Feagin, it offered the example par excellence of the “free enterprise city,” a case study of the unceasing urban transformations wrought by capitalist development unburdened by zoning. For Doug Milburn, Houston was “the last American city,” characterized by its ever-unfinished status as process rather than product. For Lars Lerup, its diffuse ecology of mega-shapes and micro-stimuli heralded the demise of the traditional city: a fluid condition of natural and artificial strata, a metastasizing field of events and affects punctuated by moments of stim and dross. At its peak, metropolitan Houston served as a radical testing ground for new ways of understanding the relentless permutations of 20th-century urbanism at large. Far from finding new extensions of these threads of writing the metropolis, probing their limits, or harnessing their potential for new speculations, instead, I encountered a city that seemed to have little nostalgia not just for its architecture, but also for its own prior theorizations. While cities like New York and Los Angeles capitalize on the major authors of their urban histories, Houston, by comparison, has largely fallen out of the center of contemporary discussions of urbanism and its possible futures. The most significant attempts to characterize Houston ultimately left a shrinking footprint on the contemporary urban scene, perhaps condemned by their avoidance of fixed definitions in relation to a metropolis endlessly in becoming. 3 Perhaps the major characteristic of Houston in the age of its most provocative theorizations was its lateness. An economy centered on petro-capital meant that its cycles of boom and bust happened a full decade out of step with urban development elsewhere in the U.S., with its peak following the spike in crude oil prices in the 1970s at the same time that the rest of the nation suffered from a deep recession. The city was similarly subject to the end of the oil boom in dramatic fashion, as plans to build the world’s tallest tower in Houston ran aground as prices crashed after 1983. The city’s authors reinforced the sense of Houston as late: for Milburn, the “last” truly American city in its combination of frenetic pace and untimely development; for Lerup, a model for what comes “after” the conventional city. Inevitably, Houston became a capital of late modernism and its manifestations. These included lapidary icons of petro-development, like the faceted, symmetrical towers of Pennzoil Place (Johnson/Burgee, 1976), along with local masterpieces like Four Allen Center (Lloyd, Morgan & Jones, 1984), which MoMA curator Arthur Drexler praised as “absolutely staggering” in its mirrored-glass effects. Houston’s later corporate development encapsulated its seamless, stylistic transition to postmodernism in buildings often designed by the same architects, like Johnson/Burgee’s RepublicBank Center of 1984, just across the street from Pennzoil Place. Houston’s theorizations provided valuable frameworks for understanding these economic and aesthetic cycles together, from the city’s boom to the period that Joel Warren Barna called the “see-through years” in homage to the hollow, abandoned development projects that littered the city’s landscape in the 1980s, begun a decade too late. 4 Houston has emerged as ground zero for what architecture and the city have become—for good or evil—in the midst of our national politics. The genuine multiculturalism of the country’s fourth-largest city—its greatest resource—offers conflicting signals with regard to architecture’s complicity with, or resistance to, the rise of xenophobia, racism, and nationalism in the U.S. This year provided welcome news of an international competition to design the country’s first official Ismaili Center, sponsored by the Aga Khan, with the hope of producing a distinguished building worthy of serving the nation’s largest community of Ismaili Muslims. Emancipation Park, established in 1872 as the first municipal park for African Americans in a segregated Houston—but long fallen into disrepair since the 1970s amid the decline of the historically underserved Third Ward—reopened last year to much fanfare following an extensive program of renovation and new construction by a team of designers led by Phil Freelon. Such initiatives are tempered by the news that Southwest Key Programs, a Texas nonprofit, plans to repurpose a warehouse near Houston’s downtown—which previously housed families displaced by Harvey—as a detention center for “tender age” immigrant children under the age of 12 who were forcibly separated from their parents by ICE. Meanwhile, the first federal contract for an immigrant detention center under the Trump administration was awarded in April 2017 to GEO Group, a private prison company, to build a $110 million, 1,000-bed facility in Conroe, a city just north of Houston. Such cruelties underscore the presence of the vast prison-industrial complex that underlies much of the financial landscape of the city’s politics, in parallel with the multinational conglomerates centered here—such as Halliburton—that have tied the city’s petrochemical industries to the construction of military detention facilities abroad. 5 What lessons can we learn from Houston today, from its dissonant combination of the hopeful and the horrifying amidst the city’s current urban transformations? How can new thinking emerge from the multiculturalism of an expanding city? Perhaps Houston’s lateness can be redeployed in its favor: While it may be behind the beat in offering responses to climate change, urban development, and cultural conflict, Houston’s apparent condition of being out-of-time can be reclaimed as a mode of resistance, a slowness in relation to contemporary politics. In this context, what can we do differently, and what must we think anew? For one, future criticism and speculation on the city will have to become more intersectional, no longer centered around a dominant—white, male—set of voices. (Look again at the list of authors on the previous page.) New ideas will have to come from beyond the domain of the academy, from the full spectrum of actors, interests, and constituencies that together represent Houston’s enviable diversity. The way forward might be indicated by the remarkable success of Project Row Houses, established in 1994 by artist Rick Lowe as a residency program for artists, architects, and writers—primarily women and people of color—to create and exhibit work in a series of restored shotgun houses in the Third Ward. The project’s model, based on a commitment to public art and an alternative model of community development—one that includes dedicated residences for young, single mothers—offers a true praxis for how cultural identity and community work can intersect in rethinking and remaking the city. Another lesson in joint urban practice can be found in the recently announced initiative by the University of Houston and the International Center for the Arts of the Americas at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston to create a partnership focused on Latino and Latin American art and culture. In seeking to connect students to the culture and heritage of Latino communities that make up some 43 percent of the urban population, this initiative suggests how architecture and design can respond more fully to a deeply multicultural city. Such examples offer the hope of a new Houston urbanism to come, one that expands the range of those who can participate in interpreting its transformations and reclaiming its prior theorizations toward new, untimely, and more humane futures.
This article is the second in a series that originally appeared in AN's July/August 2018 issue which focuses exclusively on Texas and was guest edited by AGENCY. The rest of the essays will be released in the coming days and examine architecture and practice across the southern border of the United States. These days the conversation about the United States–Mexico border is dominated by the implications of building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. But back in the mid-1960s, there were concerted binational efforts to build a monorail to further connect the commercial districts of two cities conceived as part of one binational community. A 1965 document outlining the proposal for a Juárez-El Paso Monorail System invoked the common origins of both cities. The river was referred to as an obstacle to be overcome: “No other metropolitan community of equal size has been so restricted and contained by so relatively a small item as a channelized river.” Recently, the idea for a monorail has surfaced again, but this time riding on top of a 2,000-mile border wall promoted by an American president to further separate the U.S. and Mexico. The 1960s were a period when ideas for urban planning boomed in the Juárez/El Paso border area. This was the context of the 1965 proposal for a transportation project designed to move passengers back and forth across the border. Although the idea did not come to fruition, it gives a glimpse of how certain sectors viewed the future of Juárez/El Paso as an integrated border metroplex. A prototype of the monorail can be seen in the 1967 film adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s novel Fahrenheit 451 by Francois Truffaut. It was built on the outskirts of Paris as a demonstration facility by SAFEGE, the company chosen to install the El Paso/Juárez monorail. Guy Montag, the main character, enjoys a smooth ride between the city and the suburban neighborhood where he lives. The suspended train featured in the movie is the same as that in the photomontages published in the booklet that circulated in the Juárez/El Paso area two years earlier. It was estimated that the nonstop ride between stations would transport commuters between the San Jacinto Plaza and the Juárez bullring in less than three minutes. Both cultural and aesthetic considerations were made, along with technical, commercial, and other economic aspects of the interaction between the two cities. The project was proposed not just to satisfy a growing demand for a rapid transit system that would minimize crossing time, but also as a potential tourist attraction. It anticipated that visitors from all over the world would visit “to witness the most advanced form of mass transit functioning commercially in a modern community.” It would have been an invitation to take a glimpse into a science fiction future, one where limitations imposed by geopolitical borders were meant to be overcome. The design considered how to implement inspection of passengers by Mexican and American immigration and customs officials, and proposed that this process would take place upon arrival at either station rather than at traditional border checkpoints. The document stressed that authorities considered this viable. But did this pitch really correspond with the sociopolitical context of the epoch? Or was this early globalization, pro-trade discourse merely boosting rhetoric aimed at gaining sympathizers for a binational entrepreneurial group trying to get a piece of the border transportation business? At first glance, the mid-1960s were a promising time for a project that gave the impression that Juárez/El Paso were twin cities living in harmony. But in fact, these notions were contrary to national border control policies that produced the infamous Operation Wetback, which resulted in numerous human rights violations and the deportation of over a million people. More recently, Donald Trump has been reviewing prototypes for a different kind of border project: the construction of an “unscalable” and “unpenetrable” wall. His idea has prompted architects and builders from both countries to make proposals. Earlier this year The New York Times ran an article posing the question, “Is Donald Trump, wall-builder-in-chief, a conceptual artist?” It was a report about Christoph Büchel, himself a conceptual artist who circulated a provocative petition seeking to save the prototypes—built with $3.3 million in federal funds—from demolition by invoking the Antiquities Act of 1906. According to Büchel, the set of textured slabs, which can be seen from across the border, was “a major land art exhibition of significant cultural value.” Not surprisingly, the petition created an uproar in the art world. Although some proposals were made in jest and did not reach the prototype stage, there have been numerous bids that attempt to subvert Trump’s purpose to isolate and supposedly protect the United States from the perils of contact with its southern neighbors. The New York Times reviewed a dystopian parody consisting of a 2,000-mile pink wall, housing seemingly disparate facilities like a detention center and a mall. This was a collaborative effort by Estudio 3.14, a design group in Guadalajara, Mexico, and the Mamertine Group, a design lab at the University of Connecticut. The designers used minimalist concepts and colors reminiscent of the style of influential Mexican architect Luis Barragán: “It is a prison where 11 million undocumented people will be processed, classified, indoctrinated, and/or deported.” The project also contemplates the wall housing a mall with a Macy’s in the Tijuana section. The San Diego Union-Tribune accounted for an apparently serious plan presented by a Southern California firm named National Consulting Service that envisioned a wall topped by a monorail serving both countries. The train would run along the border and would feature “voice analysis technology to detect different emotional states of riders to possibly assist law enforcement.” According to the firm, the system was designed to keep Americans safe, but also to improve and revitalize sister cities along the border. The future is still in the past.
A preliminary Department of Homeland Security (DHS) plan to house nearly 100,000 detained migrants across California has been shelved. According to a draft Navy memo reported by Time late last week, the military base at Camp Pendleton north of San Diego and the Concord Naval Weapons Station (CNWS) east of San Francisco were being eyed as potential sites for “temporary and austere” detention facilities that would hold up to 47,000 detained migrants each over coming months. The plans encountered swift and fierce local opposition from residents and City of Concord officials alike, prompting DHS to unofficially reconsider the plan. Aside from local political opposition to the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policies—especially with regard to the policy of separating migrant families and detaining separated children under inhumane conditions—locals pointed to the CNWS site’s environmental toxicity and the presence of unexploded munitions on the grounds as additional reasons against its use as a detention facility. The dust-up in California comes as the United States government works to expand the number of migrant detention facilities across the country in order to deal with the rapidly growing number of detainees resulting from its hardline stance against incoming migrants and refugees. The memo uncovered by Time estimates the government is projecting to warehouse up to 25,000 detained migrants over the coming months in abandoned airfields across southern Alabama and in the Florida panhandle in addition to the nearly 94,000 detainees planned for California. There is no word regarding where or whether the detention facilities originally slated for California are being relocated to other sites. The new facilities will join what is quickly becoming a sprawling, nation-wide network of private jail facilities, non-profit-operated detention centers, and now, camps and “tent cities” located on military bases aimed at housing detained migrants. Perhaps nothing has brought this more into focus than recent controversy over the Trump administration’s policy of family separation. Although President Trump recently put a temporary halt to the practice through an executive order, nearly 2,500 children have been separated from their families over the past two months and are now being detained in facilities spanning at least 15 states. According to government figures, roughly 12,000 migrant children overall are currently being held in over 100 facilities across the country, many of which are at or exceed their designated capacities, and some of which are facing allegations of abuse and misconduct, not to mention ill-equipped to handle the mental health, welfare, and legal hurdles these children face. As a result, the nation’s sprawling—and expanding—carceral archipelago has now become a major source of political, ethical, and moral debate. As with the vast for-profit prison system, there are many questions about the ethical and moral implications of designing and constructing these facilities. So far, however, the architectural profession is staying mostly out of the fray, with a few exceptions. Last week, The Architecture Lobby (TAL) and Architects / Designers / Planners for Social Responsibility (ADPSR) issued a joint statement rejecting the role of architects in designing such detention facilities, stating, “The Architecture Lobby and ADPSR call on architects, designers, planners and allied professionals to refuse to participate in the design of any immigration enforcement infrastructure, including but not limited to walls, checkpoints, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) offices, detention facilities, processing centers, or juvenile holding centers. We encourage owners, partners and employees who find themselves in practices that engage in this work to organize, and deny their labor to these projects.” The statement came as the American Institute of Architects (AIA) held its annual convention in New York City, an event that was marked with a heavy emphasis on the profession’s attempts to overcome the diversity and inclusion hurdles currently faced by the white- and male-dominated profession. It was not long ago that the association drew the ire of its members following the 2016 national election, when AIA CEO Robert Ivy declared that AIA members “stand ready to work” with Trump toward shared goals like infrastructure investments. During last week’s conference, ADPSR attempted to get AIA leadership to endorse its rejection of detention center projects, an effort that was ultimately unsuccessful, though the group is still working to convince the AIA to adpot its position. Raphael Sperry, president of ADPSR, told The Architect’s Newspaper, “People should recognize that immigrants, including currently undocumented people in the United States, contribute greatly to architecture, and always have. There are immigrant and undocumented architects, builders, carpenters, plumbers, welders. We must recognize and respect the contributions of everyone who shapes the built environment, and ensure that our profession and our broader industry respect human rights for everyone.” When reached for comment on the question of whether architects should take on these commissions, Carl Elefante, AIA president, referred AN to the AIA press team. When contacted, a representative of the AIA simply asked, “Why do you think architects are working on these projects?” without providing further comment. Even a casual observer would note that architects are likely fundamental to the development of not only the increasingly ubiquitous detention centers being built across the country, but also, as ADPSR points out, the myriad supportive facilities necessary for DHS to carry out its ongoing efforts to fight so-called “illegal immigration.” Most notoriously, a 200,000-square-foot former Walmart in Brownsville, Texas came under scrutiny in recent weeks as a detention center with a unique claim to fame—the largest detention center for migrant and refugee children. Operated by the privately-run Southwest Key Programs organization, the big-box detention center was converted from a retail store to its current use in 2016 as a result of corporate downsizing and currently holds roughly 1,500 separated children. The conversion likely required building permits, construction drawings, and the like—services that often require architects. It is safe to assume that local jurisdictions would require basic planning approval and permitting for these projects, so it seems natural that architects would somehow be involved in the propagation of these facilities. The silence from professional organizations on the matter is troubling to say the least; as the government ramps up efforts to build more facilities under increasingly hostile terms, it would benefit practitioners and contractors to understand the ethical implications of their work. Furthermore, other professional architectural organizations, like the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA), have pushed to have architects and designers engage with migrant and refugee detention centers through design in the past. Last year, ACSA issued a controversial call for its annual steel construction competition, asking participants to design a “Humanitarian Refugee (Detention) Center.” The proposal drew ire from the architectural community as well, prompting the group to shut down the competition in exchange for a different brief issued earlier this year. In a statement announcing the end of the competition, ACSA remarked that it had received “justified criticism” over the prompt and that it regretted its decision to publish the competition. When reached for comment this week regarding the current debate surrounding migrant detention centers, a representative said, “ACSA does not have a comment on that issue. We do not take positions on the work that architects choose to take on.” The reticence that professional groups like the AIA and ACSA have toward speaking out against what many consider to be plainly unethical facilities speaks to the profession’s ongoing struggles with racial and ethnic diversity along with human rights concerns. Because detained migrants are being distributed among a network that runs the gamut of structures, from private prisons to improvised tent cities in remote desert sites, the implications of the expanding detention network extends beyond the realm of individual projects and firm-specific business decisions to encompass profession-wide ethical and human rights concerns. The racialized dimension of the immigration debate alongside the architectural profession’s continued lack of diversity present particular challenges for professional organizations and individual firms as they attempt to respond. At stake is whether—or how—the architectural profession will engage with the American immigration debate, and more broadly, with a global refugee crisis that is only due to keep growing in scope and severity as the effects of climate change and resource-driven conflicts spread globally. If AIA and ACSA will not provide leadership during these trying times, who will?
Architecture Lobby and ADPSR call on AIA and all architects to reject projects relating to immigrant detention
As recent news shed light on the thousands of families who have been separated at the U.S.-Mexico border in the last month, and as political pressure on the Trump administration to end the practice continues to mount, The Architecture Lobby (T-A-L) and Architects / Designers / Planners for Social Responsibility (ADPSR) issued a statement that rejects the role of architects in designing such detention facilities. In their statement, both groups unanimously call for the federal government to end the militarization of the border and for architects to refuse to take on work that would further human suffering. “The Architecture Lobby and ADPSR call on architects, designers, planners and allied professionals to refuse to participate in the design of any immigration enforcement infrastructure, including but not limited to walls, checkpoints, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) offices, detention facilities, processing centers, or juvenile holding centers. We encourage owners, partners and employees who find themselves in practices that engage in this work to organize, and deny their labor to these projects. “For too long, architects have been complicit in human caging by designing and building these structures. Architects designed the facilities where children call out for their parents at night. Architects also designed the extensive network of facilities where their parents shiver in frigid holding cells. History has taught us that what is strictly legal is not always what is just. It is time for this to end. We call on professionals to join us in this pledge: We will not design cages for people.” T-A-L and ADPSR directly called upon the national AIA to “to prove its commitment to making more diverse, equitable, inclusive, resilient, and healthy places for all people.” As the 2018 AIA Conference on Architecture kicks off today under the “Blueprint for Better Cities” banner, architects from all over the country will be gathering to discuss how to improve cities for their inhabitants. With Walmarts being repurposed as child detention facilities and as the Trump administration floats the idea of building more “tent cities” to house migrants, architects will likely continue to be contracted to design these facilities. In their statement, T-A-L and ADPSR have asked that the AIA directly comment on the practice, and publicly condemn, or excommunicate, its members who would willingly work to design them. For its part, the AIA has issued past statements against immigration and visa restrictions and their impact on the profession, but nothing about the actual practice of taking on such work. AN will update this story with any potential responses from the AIA. On the grassroots level, at the time of writing, a document has been making the rounds on Twitter that lists the architects and contractors who have been identified as working on such facilities, with contact information for many.
Less than two weeks after President Trump signed sweeping 25 percent steel tariffs and 10 percent aluminum tariffs into law, the construction industry is already smarting, according to a report by National Real Estate Investor. Although the tariffs exclude steel coming from Canada and Mexico (at the time of writing), interviews with developers and those in the construction industry suggest that some projects are already seeing steel increase in cost by up to 10 percent. The culprit is speculation about price increases six to twelve months down the line, after the full impact of the tariffs make themselves felt. The panic isn’t without precedent. A 21 percent tariff imposed on imported Canadian timber in November of last year, used in 25 percent of wood-framed projects in the U.S., led to a nationwide rise in construction costs for single and mid-family homes. Contractors were forced to raise their prices, cut back on their use of timber, switch to steel, or change the design of their homes to use less materials. Joe Pecoraro, a project executive at Chicago-based general contractor Skender, told National Real Estate Investor that a client developing affordable housing might be forced to delay their project if steel costs rose any further. “Uncertainty drives people to be very conservative, risk-averse. It is affecting our deals,” said Pecoraro. Ironically, domestic steel fabricators may be hit harder than international firms as a result of the tariffs only targeting raw steel. With costs rising for their raw materials, Engineering News Record has reported that some domestic fabricators have already lost jobs to competitors based in Canada and Mexico. 1.2 million tons of fabricated steel was produced in the U.S. with imported materials in 2017, which went towards building bridges, roads and buildings. Two days before President Trump signed the tariff order, the AIA had released a statement warning that rising material costs would lead to decreased project budgets and potentially stifle architectural innovation. It remains to be seen how the tariffs will affect the country’s building boom in the long term, but those in the steel industry are still onboard.
New tariffs on steel and aluminum proposed by President Donald Trump will have negative effects on the American design and construction industries, American Institute of Architects (AIA) leadership has said in a statement. The Trump administration's plan would impose tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum, something that experts say will have wide ranging effects on both trade and the domestic economy. And while the issue is being hotly debated on the national and international stage, the AIA is weighing in with a striking warning that a rise in material costs could mean major losses for the U.S. economy. "The Administration’s announcement of new tariffs on steel and aluminum imports threatens to drastically increase the prices of many building materials specified by architects. These metal products are some of the largest material inputs in the construction of buildings. Structural metal beams, window frames, mechanical systems and exterior cladding are largely derived from these important metals," AIA President Carl Elefante, FAIA, and EVP/Chief Executive Officer Robert Ivy, FAIA, said in a statement in response to the proposed tariffs. “As creative problem solvers, architects rely on a variety of these materials to achieve functional and performance goals for their clients. Inflating the cost of materials will limit the range of options they can use while adhering to budgetary constraints for a building," they said. "By the same token, the Administration’s proposed infrastructure funding will not achieve the same value if critical materials become more expensive. Furthermore, the potential for a trade war risks other building materials and products. Any move that increases building costs will jeopardize domestic design and the construction industry, which is responsible for billions in U.S. Gross Domestic Product, economic growth, and job creation.”
The acrimony between the Trump administration and New York and New Jersey officials has reached new heights, as President Trump is reportedly pushing congressional Republicans to block funding for the Hudson River-spanning Gateway tunnel project. AN had previously reported that the administration had pulled federal funding from the $12.7 billion project, but it seems that the move was made to punish New York State Senator Chuck Schumer and other Democratic leaders in those states. Although Trump’s predecessor had once called the Gateway tunnel, part of a $30 billion revitalization plan for the area, a top priority and promised that the federal government would contribute half, U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has called Obama’s promises “a throwaway rally line.” Even after the states upped their combined contributions in the tunnel to $5 billion, the Trump administration turned up their nose at financing the rest. Now, as both the New York Times and Washington Post have reported, President Trump has been personally lobbying House Speaker Paul Ryan to shoot down any chance of Gateway funding making its way into the next spending bill. According to sources in the administration, this is in retaliation to Senator Schumer for supposedly corralling Senate Democrats into delaying or blocking the confirmation of President Trump’s nominees to key positions. It’s unlikely that any money from a future infrastructure bill would find its way to the Gateway tunnel either. In the $1.5 trillion version pitched by President Trump, Gateway would simply be too expensive, owing to contribution limits imposed on the federal government, and would be too old to qualify for much money anyways–projects approved after the bill’s passage are weighted to receive more funding by default. The 105-year-old, two-track rail tunnel that currently runs under the Hudson River is owned by Amtrak, and the company has repeatedly warned that saltwater intrusion from Hurricane Sandy means that one of the tracks will need to be repaired sooner rather than later. Closing one half of the tunnel, intentionally or otherwise, without a backup would reduce train traffic, approximately 200,000 riders daily, under the river by up to 75 percent. Of course, it’s possible that Trump could change his mind yet again down the line; the Gateway project was listed as the administration’s number one priority in the 2016 transition plan.
A joint statement from 11 major foundations condemned the Trump administration’s plan to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts in the proposed 2019 budget. As they write, shuttering the NEA “has the potential both to end valuable direct investments in our local communities and to dismantle tremendous partnerships with philanthropy that have strengthened our country.” The NEA, which has long been used as a political football by conservatives, made up just .004 percent of the federal budget, according to its 2016 fiscal year report. It has been in Trump’s crosshairs as an example of unnecessary government overspending since he first proposed axing the organization in his 2017 budget proposal. Despite the organization’s relatively miniscule strain on the federal budget and the services it provides for all Americans, the Trump administration “does not consider NEA activities to be core Federal responsibilities.” The foundation directors, representing the Ford Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, and Bloomberg Philanthropies, among others, disagrees. They themselves were brought together by the NEA seven years ago and jointly decided to fund ArtPlace America, a strong public-private collaboration which allowed them to fund communities of all sizes across the United States. The joint statement also responds to Trump’s belief that private funding can fill the void left by the NEA: “Federal agencies are charged with serving all Americans in every community; no private philanthropy has the resources or the infrastructure to do that.” As they unambiguously end their statement, “if we lose federal agencies like the National Endowment for the Arts, we will not only lose significant direct investments in communities across all 50 states, we also lose the infrastructure that brings us together as one United States of America.”
With the debate around gun control raging after the February 14th shooting in Parkland, Florida, President Trump and the National Rifle Association (NRA) have been banging on alternative solutions to prevent mass shootings in schools, from arming teachers to hardening the schools themselves. But if the NRA had their way, what would the school of the future look like? Judging from the design guidelines that came out of their 2013 National School Shield Task Force report, they’d likely resemble prisons. The 2013 report was commissioned by the NRA in response to the Sandy Hook shooting at the end of 2012, and apart from advocating for school safety plans, the task force’s findings at times come closer to recommendations for bunkers. Ironically, Sandy Hook School reopened in 2016 with a focus on "passive security" and the healing serenity of nature, presenting a diametrically different vision of school design. Playgrounds and the rest of the school would need to be surrounded by a perimeter fence with select entrance points, and to ensure that potential shooters couldn’t cut through it, all vegetation would need to be stripped from the area. Trees and shrubs provide “hiding places for people, weapons, and explosive devices, blocking lighting, inadvertently providing routes of unauthorized access,” though the report notes that trees aren’t useless; they can “provide a level of blast shielding” in the case of an explosive threat. Being able to view the planted landscape from the inside isn’t much of a concern, as the report recommends shrinking, removing, or barring over vulnerable windows to prevent attackers from breaching them. Ideally, schools would retrofit their windows with bulletproof glass and retain the ability to surveil the surrounding area, but with ballistic glass costing around $100 per square foot, it seems more likely that they’d just do away with them altogether. Parking lots would be heavily rejiggered, with a focus on breaking up the large swaths of asphalt into heavily surveilled parking “islands.” While it might be convenient for students and teachers to park near the school, the NRA notes “vehicles can provide potential attackers with a means of concealing and transporting weapons, can be used as a tool in overpowering physical security infrastructure, and can even serve as weapons in and of themselves.” Entrance doors made from bulletproof glass at the reception area for trapping attackers, rigging the building with security cameras and reconfiguring school floor plans to resemble a panopticon are all on the list, and seem more like recommendations for designing a military base than anything else. The NRA suggests funding these upgrades through federal grants, but with schools across the country unable to afford heat in the winter, and teachers striking for higher wages, it seems unlikely that this would happen. In that case, the report recommends students and teachers “hide and hope” if there’s a shooting. It remains to be seen whether the 150 schools that an NRA spokesperson said accepted help from the organization to fortify their schools are any safer. One guess is, probably not.