The Panopticon. Photo: Wikipedia
The prison construction boom may be good for the Architecture Billings Index, but all that black ink leads to some ethical gray areas that one industry nonprofit would like to put to an end. Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility (ADPSR) has drafted a Change.org petition asking the American Institute of Architects to amend its ethics code to prohibit the design of spaces for torture and killing. These include execution chambers as well as the solitary-confinement cells in supermax facilities, which can lead to deleterious psychological effects and whose use the United Nations has condemned for all but short periods of time.
"These spaces create human rights violations, and since AIA’s Ethics Code already calls for architects to 'uphold human rights in all their endeavors,' it’s actually not that big a change," writes architect and former ADPSR president Raphael Sperry, who organized the petition. "[W]e just need a more specific ethics rule clarifying that these spaces are violations of human rights."
Sperry is the subject of a recent (and very thoughtful) Architect magazine story by Karrie Jacobs, who outlines the two approaches architects have traditionally taken on prison design. Some, like Kenneth Ricci, FAIA, of Ricci Greene Associates in New York, argue that architects who accept prison projects can push to improve conditions over existing facilities. "So, far from thinking that we would boycott, we rolled up our sleeves and decided at a very early point . . . that we were going to improve the criminal justice system," Ricci told Architect. "We were going to bring new ideas.” (Ricci does not design the supermax facilities challenged in the petition.) The conscientious objector Sperry, in contrast, prefers to work outside the system, advocating for alternatives to prison development like affordable housing and drug-rehabilitation centers.
If AIA does amend its ethics code, the institute won't be the first professional organization to limit participation in executions. The American Medical Association and the American Nurses Association both restrict their members from aiding in an execution or even attending one in a professional capacity.
Sperry says he expects to bring the petition before the AIA mid-2013. Meantime, the petition is open for signatures. You don't have to be an architect to sign.