The AIA updates its code of ethics, prohibits members from designing torture or execution chambers

Better Late Than Never

The AIA updates its code of ethics, prohibits members from designing torture or execution chambers

Just before the end of 2020, the AIA has amended its code of ethics to prohibit the design of torture rooms, execution chambers, and spaces of prolonged isolation. (Emiliano Bar/Unsplash)

Calls for the American Institute of Architects (AIA) to censure members for willing designing spaces of detention, execution, and torture are nothing new; AN has repeatedly published pieces over the last ten years in favor of such measures (as well as responses from the other side).

Now, the national branch of the AIA has formally updated its code of ethics to “prohibit the design of spaces intended for execution, torture and prolonged solitary confinement.” The change to the organization’s Code of Ethics was formally adopted on December 10.

“We are committed to promoting the design of a more equitable and just built world that dismantles racial injustice and upholds human rights,” said AIA 2020 President Jane Frederick, FAIA (soon to be replaced by Peter Exley).

“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.”

Interestingly enough, the AIA has framed the decision as one not just of social justice but of specifically addressing racism in the built environment, acknowledging the disproportionate rates that minorities in America are subject to these spaces.

The decision to review the Code of Ethics reportedly began in July, after the AIA National Ethics Council was directed to following a summer of civil unrest and protests after the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of the police. As such, the AIA now claims that it will: “promote criminal justice reform and rehabilitation,” based on international human rights organizations; focus on design solutions that promote rehabilitation and reform to prevent repeat offenses or backsliding, and to try to ensure that “physical needs, health, dignity and human potential” of those incarcerated are respected and met.

Of course, the new code of ethics amendment doesn’t prevent or ask members to not design prisons, jails, or other places of incarceration, only that they not design spaces intended for prolonged solitary confinement (which the AIA defines as housing a prisoner for at least 22 hours a day with no outside contact). While this is a demand some members have also been making for years, and the AIA New York spoke out against in October, nothing official has been implemented yet.

The updated AIA Code of Ethics can be found on the institute’s website.