Architects Respond to Trump, AIA’s "Endorsement"

Donald J. Trump’s election as president of the United States, and the AIA’s subsequent statement, has provoked the architectural world to respond.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The day following the election of Donald J. Trump to the U.S. presidency, the CEO of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), Robert Ivy, responded with a statement that struck a tone of conciliation. In it, he said that the organization 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.”

However, some AIA members have taken umbrage with Ivy’s blanket statement of support. Trump’s controversial campaign promises have made many practitioners question the extent to which the president-elect will live up to the principles that the AIA, and indeed the nation, espouses. The following statements—from Aaron Betsky, Michael Sorkin, Architecture 2030, AIA Chicago, Architects Advocate for Action on Climate Change, the Architecture Lobby, the Yale School of Architecture, and the Equity Alliance—reveal some of the ways architects around the country are processing Trump’s election. At the bottom of the post, we also include Ivy’s recent apology for his “tone-deaf” statement.

“Change will come from bottom-up solutions.”
—Ed Mazria, Architecture 2030

In his statement, Ed Mazria, founder and CEO of the think tank Architecture 2030, notes that the U.S. government must honor the Paris Climate Agreement if the country is to maintain its civic and moral obligation to combat climate change. Nevertheless, Mazria is optimistic, cautioning Americans to remember that political gridlock and poor leadership have consistently put the environmental agenda on the back burner:

As Margaret Mead famously stated, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Our “small group” of thoughtful citizens and professionals grows daily, as does our power to achieve our goals, all of which is being widely embraced worldwide. Now is the time to harness this power and redouble our efforts, from the bottom up.

Read Mazria’s full statement here.

“I despair about the future.”
—Aaron Betsky, director of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture

Although not citing Ivy’s controversial statement, critic and educator Aaron Betsky also identifies infrastructure as a key issue, suggesting that no major politician has effectively addressed the issue in decades—despite their campaign promises. Although Betsky was not hopeful that Hilary Clinton would make good on her proposals, nor invest in the “transformative technologies” that would allow us to “leapfrog” past our infrastructure’s limitations, he points out that Trump has no clear plan for investing in infrastructure at all. He concludes on a less than optimistic note:

I despair about the future of my country for many reasons after these elections. In the end, the threat of social divisiveness and the victory of climate change deniers are more serious issues that fixing bridges and railroads. At least most of us will survive the physical decline of this country. We will just live in a diminished, less connected and therefore ever poorer country. Whether we – and the rest of the world – can survive its environmental and social decline is another matter.

Read Betsky’s full statement here.

“Rise against collaborationist architecture.”
—The Architecture Lobby

The Architecture Lobby strongly criticized the AIA’s statement, finding it further evidence of how the organization has never truly taken the values of diversity and inclusion to heart:

The AIA’s rhetoric has always emphasized the importance of women and people of color to the architectural profession, but only as a product of their economic utility. Now that the business proposition has changed, disenfranchised communities are left in the cold. We believe it is possible to push architecture towards a truly inclusive profession, one with organizations that can stand up for the needs of all its members on the basis of their humanity and not their value proposition.

Turning to Trump, the Lobby cites his environmental policies as “endanger[ing] the very cities that we not only live in but are sworn to protect.” They go on to suggest, like Mazria and Betsky, that a bottom-up approach, albeit a radical one, is vital if we are to preserve the rights of humanity and nature:

We as architects can use this moment to reflect on our role in constructing the elite vs. everyman dichotomy that has divided us. In lieu of presenting and thinking of ourselves as part of the elite, we can show that we, too, are workers of precarity and concern; that we, like all workers, can and must fight the 1% and all others who threaten human rights and the rights of nature. Only a bottom up approach built on the principles of radical democracy, economic justice, and quality of life for all can achieve that vision and advocate for the needs of architecture workers and the public we serve.

Read the Architecture Lobby’s full statement here.

“Let us not be complicit!”
—Michael Sorkin

Architect and critic Michael Sorkin takes an inflammatory stance, condemning the AIA for supporting Trump despite his campaign promises and rhetoric:

While [Ivy’s] words appear anodyne and reflect the judicious position and celebration of America’s history of peaceful transitions of power articulated by both President Obama and Hillary Clinton, they are an embarrassment to those of us who feel that the Trump presidency represents a clear and present danger to many values that are fundamental to both our nation and our profession….We do not welcome Donald Trump to the White House and will revile and oppose him until he can conclusively demonstrate that the hideous pronouncements and proposals of his campaign have demonstrably been set aside and in favor of positions and actions that genuinely seek to serve our national cause and purpose–to build a better America rooted in the principles of justice, equity, and human dignity.

Sorkin goes on to outline five measures by which we must evaluate Trump’s actions: providing affordable housing as a right; urgent environmental action (see first quote below); investment in infrastructures of the future, not fixing obsolete systems nor building walls and prisons; investment in research and education; and global equity (see second quote below).

The stunning and unsupportable ignorance that Trump and the cabal of climate-change deniers are likely to foist on us is alone grounds for radical measures to resist and impeach a Trump presidency.  We face an emergency and unless truly radical steps are taken to move us towards a post-carbon economy, to conserve energy, to use our precious planetary resources with the great care and most considered stewardship they demand, we will rise up against any government bent on leading down the path to global suicide.

Can this tribune of wealth and disdain for the other—for people of color, the handicapped, Muslims, women, Hispanics—ever understand that many of us entered the design professions because we so clearly saw the capacity of our practices to influence and structure the way in which the world’s resources are distributed and deployed?  Trump’s newly “presidential” demeanor—his claims that he seeks to “bring us together”—will continue to ring completely false until he dedicates himself to seeking genuine equity not just for Americans but for all of those who struggle to live good lives on our crowded and troubled planet.

Sorkin concludes with a warning and a call-to-action:

Trump’s agenda–and that of his allies–will only accelerate the privatization and erosion of our public realm in both its social and physical forms and practices. We call upon the AIA to stand up for something beyond a place at the table where Trump’s cannibal feast will be served!  Let us not be complicit in building Trump’s wall but band together to take it down!

Sorkin’s full statement here.

“We believe in creating more equitable opportunities.”
—AIA Chicago

The AIA Chicago board of directors reassured its members that the organizational chapter was not in accord with AIA National’s statement of support for Trump:

Further, we are committed to working with all of you to deepen our diversity and inclusion initiatives, and to continue the discussions that affect positive change on issues that are critical to our profession. We believe in and are dedicated to:

  • Supporting our members, our committee leaders, our board and our staff as we engage, educate and challenge our elected leaders locally, regionally and nationally on the issues faced by architects;
  • Assuring that the built environment addresses the realities of climate change;
  • Creating more equitable opportunities for all in our profession regardless of gender, race, religion or sexual orientation;
  • Upholding our professional standards of creating spaces that are safe and promote equality for our clients and the public;
  • Building stronger and more resilient communities, including urban, suburban and rural areas in which our members practice and live. 

Read the AIA Chicago’s full statement here.

“We have an ethical responsibility not to erect walls.”
—Students of the Yale School of Architecture

A statement cosigned by a large group of students at the Yale School of Architecture didn’t mince words in its criticism of Ivy’s remarks, citing historic grievances of racial and gender discrimination that it feels the AIA has elided:

For too long, our profession has been complicit in giving form to landscapes of inequality and discrimination, and has itself been plagued by a history of racial and gender inequity. The AIA’s immediate and unquestioning pandering to the Trump administration threatens a continuation of our troubled past and demonstrates a willingness to pursue financial gain at the expense of our values. 

The students conclude by affirming disciplinary principles that they feel now “greatly imperiled by the position of the AIA”:

We believe in the social value of architecture and the moral agency of architects.
We believe human values are more important than material values.
We will work to mitigate the effects of the built environment on climate change.
We will resist individuals, institutions, and systems that exploit people and land for power and profit.
We will continue our commitment to promoting equality and diversity within the profession.
We will exclusively contribute to the creation of a built environment that is equal, just, and safe for all people. 

Read the full statement here.

“We have failed to speak truth to power.”
—The Equity Alliance

In its letter addressed to Robert Ivy, The Equity Alliance begins by explaining why certain AIA members have belt betrayed by the organization’s statement:

Please recognize that, in word and in action, you perpetuated our profession’s white, male privilege when you offered the Institute’s support for a person known for promoting a worldview that threatens to pit us against one another on the basis of our race, gender, creed, or sexual orientation. These beliefs do not reflect who we are, nor do we believe that they reflect the core values we are responsible for upholding as a profession.

The writers point to Angela Merkel’s response to Trump as a model for how the AIA could have responded. They then go on to explain the import of the AIA’s support of the Trump administration:

Yes, we believe in infrastructure, but that belief is subsidiary to our belief that we have an important role to play in building a just, fair and transparent society. As architects, we are often tasked with working on behalf of many while in consultation with a powerful few. It is our responsibility to reflect and protect the communities that we serve, which often means advocating for those who haven’t been included in the decision-making process. We do not simply provide our clients with what they initially tell us they want to see, but instead work with them to envision a future in which they are their best selves and protect our planet for future generations. This is what architects do. This is the value that we provide, and the basis for our continued relevance.

In offering our profession’s unequivocal support for the incoming administration, we believe that the AIA has fallen short of our duty to the communities that we serve. We have failed to speak truth to power, and have instead offered a willingness to capitulate to an unpardonable worldview because we are enticed by the pursuit of new commissions. We have countermanded years of hard work on our profession’s relevance and on equity within the profession with a statement that suggests that we are simply “yes”-people who rubber stamp the beliefs of those who pay our bills. We owe our society—and each other—better than this.

Read the Equity Alliance’s full statement here.

“Being apolitical is no longer an option”
—Tom Jacobs, Architects Advocate for Action on Climate Change

Representing Architects Advocate for Action on Climate Change, Tom Jacobs, a former board member of AIA Chicago, admits that the AIA’s statement was “flawed,” but cautions architects not “to pick the wrong fight.”

The AIA statement is a case of a well-intended communication poorly executed. Today, we need AIA more than ever before […] remember, we are AIA. The ultimate responsibility to figure this out rests with us, the members. We have to take this into our own hands, get organized, and force the change we know is needed.

Jacobs urges architects to start their own advocacy groups—for affordable housing, pay equality, etc.—and take action.

There is a silver lining as a result of this election if we—the architecture profession—are ready to seize it. This can become the moment in time when we architects realized that being apolitical is no longer an option. Being political does not mean fueling the flames of partisanship, on the contrary. It means recognizing the urgent need to engage more effectively where decisions are made that affect us all. We can demonstrate what it means when citizens take their civic responsibilities seriously, and we can model the kind of behavior we wish to see in others.

Read the full statement here.

“Unite for America”
—Robert Ivy

In response to the backlash, AIA CEO Robery Ivy initially defended his statement to Architect’s Newspapersaying it was in line with those made by President Obama:

“The AIA remains firmly committed to advocating for the values and principles that will create a more sustainable, inclusive and humane world. The spirit and intention behind our statement is consistent with and in support of President Obama’s eloquent call for us all to unite for the best interest of America’s future.”

However, he and the AIA have since issued an apology, calling the initial statement “tone-deaf.”

A post-election message from AIA’s CEO and 2016 President from AIA Content Team on Vimeo.

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