The AIA Moves to Prohibit Members from Designing Death Chambers
At a time when the death penalty is increasingly making headlines, one of the industry’s most important professional organizations will forbid members from knowingly designing spaces for executions. On December 11, the American Institute of Architects released a statement announcing that its Board of Directors updated its code of ethics to “prohibit members from knowingly designing spaces intended for execution and torture, including indefinite or prolonged solitary confinement” lasting 22 hours or more for a period of at least 15 consecutive days.
“We are committed to promoting the design of a more equitable and just built world that dismantles racial injustice and upholds human rights,” AIA 2020 president Jane Frederick said in the statement. “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.”
While the Code of Ethics update is consistent with a June statement on systemic and racial injustice that called for the AIA more forcefully and clearly condemn racism in the built environment, it represents a break from the organization’s previous thinking on designing spaces for executions. As recently as 2019, the AIA’s National Ethics Council asserted that designing an execution chamber “does not, in and of itself, constitute conduct in wanton disregard for the rights of others,” noting instead that “it reflects conduct that is sanctioned by society in those jurisdictions where capital punishment has been adopted by the law of the land.”
AIA’s perspective has clearly evolved in the time since, thanks to advocacy both within and without the organization. The New York Times also notes that Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility helped consult AIA on the new decision. A broader September statement from the organization’s New York chapter called on its members to no longer design “unjust, cruel, or harmful spaces of incarceration within the current United States justice system.”
Beyond the prohibition on spaces for execution, torture, and solitary confinement, the AIA statement also encourages its members to “remain committed to working with their clients to promote criminal justice reform and rehabilitation.” More broadly, members should “strive to ensure the physical needs, health, dignity, and human potential of all those who come in contact with the justice system are respected and given the opportunity to flourish.”
The proclamation comes at a time of increased state executions. Since the Justice Department was authorized to resume executions in July 2020, ten men on death row have been executed, Alfred Bourgeois and Brandon Bernard, both of whom were executed within 24 hours of the AIA releasing its statement. Currently, two further executions are scheduled before the January 20 inauguration of President-Elect Joe Biden.