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Architect’s call to resign from AIA renews professional debate over Trump

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Mette Aamodt, co-founder of Aamodt/Plumb and 2015 Groundbreakers winner, says AIA needs to “make a huge pivot”

Mette Aamodt and Andrew Plumb in their Cambridge studio
Mette Aamodt and Andrew Plumb in their Cambridge studio.
Simon Simard

An architect’s public call to resign from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) yesterday has renewed debate over how the profession should react to the incoming President, and spurred additional discussion over how the professional organization will work to support Donald Trump’s proposed infrastructure plans.

In a statement yesterday, Mette Aamodt, a partner in Aamodt/Plumb, an Austin- and Cambridge-based architecture firm (and past honoree of Curbed’s Groundbreakers award), announced the firm is not paying its AIA dues, which are up for renewal this week, and encourages others to do the same. The resignation comes in response to the letter written by the organization’s vice president, Robert Ivy, that said membership was “committed to working with President-elect Trump,” and the AIA’s response to the backlash over that letter. Aamodt is calling on architects to join her in refusing to work for clients “engaged in discrimination, human rights violations, tyranny and exploitation.”

Curbed spoke to Aamodt about her statement, and how individual and institutional bodies should react to the challenges posed by the Trump administration.

What are the unique responsibilities of architects, in terms of activity and activism, during a potentially unfriendly administration?

Mette Amodt: “I think Trump affects us very directly; he has in the past in his role as a developer. There was an architect who came out during the campaign and did a video describing how Trump had refused to pay the fees they agreed on. There were numerous other examples of Trump not paying contractors and subcontractors. He’s got liens on several of his buildings, and those are usually placed when there are unpaid fees. He’s directly exploiting architects and people in the construction industry, which the AIA and Robert Ivy know full well. How is this even a reasonable client for us to consider working for, knowing that we’re going to be cheated?”

There’s a huge infrastructure program in the works from the incoming Trump administration. Should architects get involved, or is it worth taking a stand, based on Trump’s previous behavior?

MA: “I’m struggling against Trump in all aspects, politically and architecturally. I don’t feel, for myself, that working for him or his administration, in any form, would be the right thing to do. I’m not talking about projects that are already in the works. Specifically, I mean his infrastructure projects, if it comes to pass. Every architect needs to make that choice for themselves. But it’s one thing to be presented with a project and then make a decision and evaluate based on the project. It’s another thing to say, We’re available to you for any projects that comes up. That doesn’t feel right to me.”

What should the AIA do now?

MA: “In my opinion, Robert Ivy should resign. The AIA should force him to resign. He wrote that letter in the wee hours of the morning, literally hours after Trump was called the winner. At 6 am, he was typing at his keyboard writing this gleeful letter, without consulting anyone.

This was not a regular campaign. This was a campaign run on hatred and bigotry—there were plenty of reasons that should have given him pause: Maybe I should wait on this before writing it. [And] he quoted the 89,000 members of our organization. I think this so clearly misrepresents such a wide number of people in the AIA.

Architecture already has a reputation as being an old white boy’s club, and this just feeds right into it. I feel like it doesn’t represent me, or the future of our profession.

For AIA to move forward, they need new leadership, and they need to make a huge pivot, not just a few weak apologies. Other people resigned over the controversy, like the marketing director of the AIA. Ivy just regurgitated the criticism given to him. But he’s the one that needs to go. If the AIA has a commitment to the future, to diversity, sustainability, inclusivity, then this is not the way to start out the new administration.”

What’s the response you’ve heard from colleagues and peers since making your statement yesterday?

“I’m just starting to get responses on my Facebook page [and] starting to respond on social channels. I have a core group of architects who support me and have actively been discussing this issue. I know there are a lot of people out there who are extremely concerned.

It’s a decision to send in your AIA renewal and $1,000 fee, and you have to make that choice. Is this organization worth it? I can think of a lot better ways to spend $1,000, and I don’t want to participate in anything that will be actively supporting the Trump administration.”