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What should architects do about Trump?

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An AIA vice president’s letter set off a firestorm of criticism, and many hope, a renewed focus on values

The executive vice president of the American Institute of Architects, Robert Ivy, is in damage control mode after releasing a post-election message that said, among others things, 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.” The backlash has been swift—from AIA members, press, non-member architects, and professional design critics alike—pointing out that Ivy’s speedy call for collaboration is tone-deaf and not representative of AIA’s organizational values.

The editorial board of The Architect’s Newspaper took a firm stance, citing the fact that Donald Trump’s campaign wasrelatively anemic in terms of specific, actionable policy proposals and objectives,” so Ivy’s assumption that “infrastructure” includes “investments in schools, hospitals, and other public infrastructure” is “purely hallucinogenic and wishful thinking.”

Likewise, Latent Design started the Twitter hashtag #NotMyAIA, which is currently populated with anger over the president-elect’s campaign platform, projected Cabinet appointments, and proposed plan to build a wall along the Mexican–U.S. border.

Ivy released a follow-up statement, as well as a video apology earlier today, expressing that his original statement doesn’t represent the group’s values. AIA President Russell Davidson also promised to embark on a listening tour with the membership.

But the debate raging in the wake of Ivy’s statements raises an important question: What are the architecture profession’s values, and what should architects do when presented with projects that compromise those values?

With the potential for Trump appointees to weaken environmental standards—Myron Ebell, a potential EPA head, is a climate change skeptic—and an official Republican platform that seeks to eliminate some of President Obama’s more progressive housing regulations, many feel incredibly uneasy about working with the new administration.

Benjamin Prosky, executive director of AIA New York, says while there is already an AIA codes of ethics, it’s important to respond with a clear declaration of intent.

“We shelter and protect all, that’s what we do,” says Prosky. “We’re not doing infrastructure or schools for some.”

It’s important for those in the profession to voice their core values, he says, and believes the chapter can reaffirm its commitment to serve all. AIA New York leadership reached out to its chapter members this morning with an open letter, asking for suggestions of what to do, how to position the organization, and how to “best respond to the challenges [members] see facing us as a community.”

People don’t want to be spoken for right now, says Prosky, they want to be heard:

“The recent presidential campaign had very violent rhetoric, and we believe that personal dignity is a human right, regardless of nation of origin, gender, or sexuality,” he says. “A candidate, and now a president-elect, who has made an onslaught on any members of our community is an affront.”

The decisions of the president-elect and his administration—at least as far as appointments, regulations, and the scope and scale of potential infrastructure projects—haven’t been formalized yet, and Trump has yet to present any clear-cut plans to execute on his promises.

Prosky believes that rather than speculate, it’s important to take this time to define a code of values, or reiterate current professional codes.

Thomas Jacobs, a founder and organizer of the Architects Advocate Action on Climate Change campaign, a pro-environmental group that launched this summer, believes better organizing around specific issues can make an impact.

“The issue is that AIA keeps taking the stance that we have to be bipartisan, and that completely misses the point that a healthy environment isn’t a partisan issue,” he says. “If the AIA isn’t ready to go there and call out things, we should be doing it.”

He believes Ivy’s statement broke the shock—“it was like throwing a bomb in the crowd”—but he doesn’t think hacking on the AIA is the right move right now.

Architects Advocate Action plans to organize and showcase professional agreement on the issue—“here’s an entire professional group that overwhelmingly agrees”—and eventually target members of Congress to campaign for stricter environmental regulations.

“Right now, we’re in emergency mode,” he says. “But activity in the last couple of days, all the calls and emails, has been amazing.”

Jacobs believes these types of focused campaigns can be applied to any number of issues facing the profession. In the wake of last Tuesday’s election, there aren’t any answers yet. But since pushing back seems to be on the top of people’s minds, he believes it can be a turning point.

“Maybe this becomes known as the moment when architects started to wake up and figure out it’s not possible to be apolitical,” he says.