Over the weekend, the architecture community erupted in debate over a statement from the American Institute for Architects (AIA) that declared support for President-elect Donald Trump and his infrastructure policies. Architects remain split over how the profession should confront the incoming administration, and many are expressing dismay over the AIA’s conciliatory tone on behalf of its members.
In a statement from AIA CEO and Executive Vice President Robert Ivy released hours after the election results were confirmed, Ivy wrote that “The AIA 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.” He goes on:
During the campaign, President-elect Trump called for committing at least $500 billion to infrastructure spending over five years. We stand ready to work with him and with the incoming 115th Congress to ensure that investments in schools, hospitals and other public infrastructure continue to be a major priority.
We also congratulate members of the new 115th Congress on their election. We urge both the incoming Trump Administration and the new Congress to work toward enhancing the design and construction sector’s role as a major catalyst for job creation throughout the American economy.
This has been a hard-fought, contentious election process. It is now time for all of us to work together to advance policies that help our country move forward.
The blanket statement of support for the incoming administration has drawn harsh backlash from members of the architecture community, many of whom reject the agreeable wording of the statement made on their behalf. Architects took to social media to assert their opposition to the statement with the #NotMyAIA hashtag created by Latent Design.
Architect’s Newspaper was among the first to release an official response, which reflects the unwillingness of many in the profession to be grouped into the AIA’s statement. “The memo’s imprecise language, uncritical stance, and congratulatory tone not only willfully misunderstand the stated policy objectives of the President-elect, but in committing such a lapse in judgement, submit the 89,000-member profession to the willful service of the destructive goals stated above,” the editors wrote. The statement also collected feedback from practitioners and academics expressing disagreement with Ivy’s statement, including Zach McKown, Cooper Union School of Architecture dean Nader Tehrani, and even Center for Architecture, the AIA New York Chapter.
On Saturday, Ivy and the AIA wrote a letter to the editor in response:
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.
Yet architects and architectural institutions have continued to build upon the critical response to the AIA’s statement, with disagreements being voiced even among AIA individual chapters and sects. The American Institute of Architects Committee on the Environment (AIA COTE) published an open letter on its continued commitment to the environment that noted it “is more important now than ever.” Although it does not explicitly state that the letter is a response to the AIA’s own statement, it does address one of the key points of departure from Trump’s policies among architects.
The architect-urbanist Michael Sorkin has arisen as one of the most vocal critics of the statement. Sorkin posted a strongly worded call-to-arms on Facebook on Saturday entitled Architecture Against Trump. In it, they outline areas that architects should remain vigilant in pursuing under a Trump administration, including a commitment to affordable housing, the environment, and equitable business practices. Their statement concludes:
We must carry on the struggle for a just and sustainable environment with redoubled strength, opposing the reactionary policies that so gravely threaten our most fundamental values. 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!
Organizations including the Architecture Lobby and QSPACE have also published statements that call on architects to denounce the AIA statement and instead focus on diversity, inclusion, and a commitment toward environmental sustainability:
Given the AIA has already released a second statement, calls for organization like the ones above are likely the most constructive way forward. Considering the volume and speed of responses from architects, it doesn’t look like the debate will die down any time soon.