On September 30, the Board of Directors of AIA New York, the largest and oldest chapter of the American Institute of Architects, issued a statement calling on AIANY members to “no longer design unjust, cruel or harmful spaces of incarceration within the current United States justice system, such as prisons, jails, detention centers, and police stations.” Along with this declaration, the AIANY has also announced a series of related social justice-related initiatives.
The AIANY board, which notes in the statement that architects have been for far too long “complicit in upholding intrinsic racism within the American criminal justice system,” went on to urge members to instead “shift their efforts towards supporting the creation of new systems, processes, and typologies based on prison reform, alternatives to imprisonment, and restorative justice.”
An accompanying press announcement clarifies that the AIANY is not outright banning the legally allowed design of prisons, detention centers, and similar facilities within its ranks and that members who do choose to take on these types of project will not find their participation within the organization to be subsequently limited or otherwise impacted in any manner as a result. However, incarceration-related projects, which can still be submitted to the AIANY Design Awards, will not be honored by the organization if found to run counter to the AIANY code of ethics which states that the members’ work should “enhance and facilitate human dignity and the health, safety, and welfare of the individual and the public.” The chapter is also urging both the statewide and national chapters of AIA to refrain from designing justice facilities that “uphold the current system.”
“Throughout the long, careful process of drafting this statement, the Board of Directors had constructive and challenging conversations with many members of the architecture community,” said AIANY 2020 president Kim Yao in a statement. “We heard from those who design criminal justice facilities, those who have spent years opposing that work, and others who sought to learn more about it. We hope that our final statement and associated programming will help architects engage in the conversations and work that will bring change to the American criminal justice system.”
As for the related initiatives, AIANY plans to launch a special programming series that examines the role of architecture within the criminal justice system. Per the statement, these special talks and exhibitions will use “open and interdisciplinary discussions to increase awareness and knowledge within our professional community, while highlighting the voices of those who have suffered within the system.” Furthermore, the chapter’s political action committee, the AIA New York Political Action Fund, will also actively support candidates that back progressive criminal justice reform and the limiting of the construction of new incarceration facilities.
As detailed on a recently launched special projects page dedicated to the issue, the chapter further elaborated that it has no stance on the abolition of all prisons, noting: “As a professional association, we are concerned with the impacts of policies, past, present, and future, on the built environment and on the practice of architecture.”
More information, including context, statistics, details on forthcoming programming, as well as the statement in full can be found here.