Three Degrees of Ethical Engagement: A Manifesto for Architects
There is an ongoing immigration crisis in the United States, generated and maintained by the current administration’s racist and violent policies. As practitioners in an inherently political profession, we are compelled to reject the injustices taking place at immigration detention centers. In response, we foresee three possibilities for ethical engagement in our roles as architects, which also represent three degrees of engagement. The first—a bureaucratic position—addresses the standards of building occupancy. The second—a dissenting position— considers our agency as designers of buildings who (can) refuse to partake in unethical acts. The third—an activist position—explores our political power when we organize.
The first, which we consider a baseline, is the position taken by the AIA in its July 22, 2019 statement denouncing conditions at detention centers. Architects should indeed ensure that buildings meet basic standards of use and occupation set by local and state building regulations. Processing centers not intended for habitation but only for temporary administrative management become inhumane as long term shelters (figure 1). Most of these facilities lack showers, windows, and natural light. However, once built, there is little architects can do to enforce buildings codes or ensure that the appropriate occupancies are being met. Indignation is justified but impractical and ineffective.
The profession should react more comprehensively and move beyond the most basic definition of architects’ responsibilities as administrators of building health and safety. Instead of merely overseeing building code implementation, architects should be leaders and advocates for social justice. Article 5 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (proclaimed by the UN General Assembly resolution 217A as a global standard) states that, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” An ethical architecture profession, therefore, ought not to design facilities that violate those human rights. Refusal to build and to condone such building practices, either as an individual or as a collective, is a powerful political strategy, and architects should use it, in both professional practice and academia.
Beyond individual refusal is a third option: organizing and mobilizing for positive change. Immigration centers and the policies that they make manifest are a stain on our humanity, and architects should unite in declaring them unethical. Just as the labor and Civil Rights movements succeeded with the power of collective, organized resistance, we, as a profession, can persuade those in power to stop policies that put our country to shame (figure 2).
The Architecture Lobby and Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility’s (ADPSR) joint July 31, 2019 statement advocates for this third option (figure 3). The statement is both a call to action and a framework for organizing. We believe that stopping at the baseline fails to address the depth of the ethical issues presented by the existence of detention centers. We believe that we, as architects and as individuals, have active agency: it extends beyond refusal. Architects, designers, and planners should move out of the safety of adhering merely to professional standards to claim a position of humanitarian indignation and positive action.
Speak up and sign our pledge, learn how to organize with your colleagues, and boycott all work associated with the inhumane regime of immigration deterrence and detention.
Speak Up, Organize, Boycott.