The U.S. is home to over 4,900 federal prisons, local jails, detention centers, and privately run facilities. These buildings, which house an estimated 1.57 million prisoners at any given time, are often designed by architects. But as Michael Kimmelman points out in the New York Times, planning buildings devoted to incarceration raises a number of ethical questions. Should architects refuse to design execution chambers and solitary confinement cells? Last month, the American Institute of Architects said no, and rejected a petition that proposed censuring members who designed the controversial structures.
"If we begin to stipulate the types of projects our members can and cannot do, it opens a can of worms," Helene Combs Dreiling, the A.I.A.'s former president, told Kimmelman. "Members with deeply embedded beliefs will avoid designing those building types and leave it to their colleagues."
However, the organization that proposed the petition, Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility, just wanted architects to have a guiding principal similar to that of the American Medical Association, which bans doctors from taking part in executions or torture. "Is there nothing so odious that the A.I.A. wouldn't step in?" organization leader and architect Raphael Sperry asked in the New York Times. "What about concentration camps?"
The A.I.A's own code of professional ethics states that "members should uphold human rights in all their professional endeavors."