Couldn't disagree more. Are architects not fully-formed human beings with moral conscience? Are we not educated in the sciences, arts, and humanities? Are we not aware of or responsible for the effects of our actions? Are we mere professional automatons, only doing the bidding of our paymasters? Should we be confined to only speaking out as individuals, each one screaming futilely into the wind? Doesn't the AIA help individual architects get beyond the daily grind of their work and make their more elevated abilities and duties real?
Rob Hosken, AIA, C.E.M.
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I would hope that the organization that represents the values of our profession , i.e., AIA (and its component Chapters), would - forcefully and unequivocally - go on public record denouncing the concept of constructing the envisioned Trump Wall along the US southern border (Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California).
Physically, functionally, and economically, the Wall is a total waste. Symbolically, it is medieval. What does the noble profession stand for? How difficult is it for our AIA Board of Directors to take a stand?
Roger Schluntz, FAIA
School of Architecture and Planning
University of New Mexico
Apart from building a wall or physical barrier along the United States–Mexico border that was conceived with malevolent intentions, there are two additional issues, which have received little attention that our profession should bring to the attention of the American public.
First, Texas has the longest border with Mexico and only 100 miles of fencing – a 1,254-mile border along the Rio Grande River, or the flying distance between Boston and Miami. A border wall and access road would be built on the U.S. side of the river outside the flood plain. In some sections the wall would be miles from the river because the Rio Grande twists and snakes through the region and the barrier would not follow the actual border.
This would cut the entire United States and state of Texas off from 1,254 miles of the Rio Grande River and essentially cede access to the river, its reservoirs, and the land from the river to the wall, to the Mexico side.
People, animals, and livestock on the U.S. side of the wall would not be able to reach the river, its water, recreation areas, reservoirs, or wildlife. It would take place in a hot semi-arid region, expected to get hotter and drier with climate change, where water is a precious and life sustaining resource.
Second, and more important, a wall or barrier that prevents people from passing through, would also disrupt all animal migration corridors along the Rio Grande border, isolate animal populations, fragment and decimate wildlife and habitats, threaten one of the most biodiverse areas in the U.S., and destroy hundreds of millions of dollars in wildlife tourism for towns on both sides of the border.
In other words, planning and designing a physical barrier that causes irreparable harm to both people and wildlife is both a shameful and immoral act.
We should all HOPE that the "wall" will be built "outside the flood plain," if it is in fact constructed. There are many on both sides of the border who have concerns about water flow and drainage from stormwater generated by hurricanes, such as events in 2008 and 2014. This would include issues from trapped debris along "open" fencing, as well as walls of solid construction. And "solid" is another concept that is somewhat ambiguous, when dealing with man-made structures faced with natural forces. Ask the folks who lived in the punch bowl which was New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The floodwalls collapsed here because the depth of the driven sheet piles underneath the "I-wall" was insufficient to hold back the water in the 17th street canal. In other words, this was a man-made disaster. Does the planned "wall" run through any towns on the US side? Will the flood plain actually CHANGE Because of this wall? There is of course a treaty between the US and Mexico which likely applies to such a structure on the US side of the border. Which may be the subject of lengthy litigation before an international tribunal. All this looks and feels like the built environment to me. I clearly remember General Kelly talking about a "virtual" wall, and other measures short of an actual wall, which will accomplish the same security goals, perhaps better than the "wall." Back to the drawing board?
Charles Floca, AIA
Have to agree with the OP, but without negating the passions of the disagreeing replies.
The original post does not suggest Architects should not be passionate about this issue.
He asks, rather, and, I think, reasonably and rationally, why the AIA is wading into this as an organization that is ostensibly set up to advocate for the Architectural profession. Not one critical post has answered that question in a way that does anything but exclaim, with great emotion but no greater rhetorical strength for it: "Because!".
That's not a good enough reason to hijack an organization beyond its mission for our own pet causes, however grand, or even morally justified we think they are, or they may in fact be. This isn't building Auschwitz. It's a dispute about national immigration policy and law with perhaps some issues of environmental impacts on the lands of a few states. And it certainly has little to no bearing on the issues that directly affect our practice and profession across the nation.
Go out and protest, resist, or whatever you decide is the right thing for you to do. But do it as you. Leave the AIA out of it. And if the AIA is going to get into it, I too, as a member, would like to know on what grounds the organization is using my (extremely high) dues for something that hasn't anything to do with supporting my profession and it's standing in what is a very competitive market and economy.
Jodi,If you understood my point, you'd recognize that the core issue you describe is irrelevant to it.You say "Defending the profession is the role of the AIA. In order to do that, we first need to define what an "architect" is.No. *We* don't. The AIA and every state already have: "The AIA supports protecting the public by reserving the use of the term 'architect' and its derivative forms to those individuals licensed as architects." Those licensed professions are specifically defined around key practice roles. "Critical thinking" is not one of them. Defining "architect" specifically around professional activity does not by default define it as "a profession limited to creation of prettiness without soul and without functional worth." But redefining "architect" to mean everything *is* to make it mean nothing.Moralizing based on platitudes and reactionary opposition to something that hasn't even been designed yet is best left to political parties. If that is the bar for practicing "architecture" our profession would be reduced to advising every client not to build anything lest we damage the environment or offend a neighbor with their immoral imposition on the natural environment.Let me try putting this a more positive way.The AIA would better serve the entire national Architectural community (and the nation) by lobbying politically to *involve* Architects in this project if our nation's political leaders chose to move forward with it. Such a move would offer an opportunity to extol the virtues of Architects beyond pretty homes, flashy office buildings or ridiculously unrealistic "visionary" proposals. Architects would be shown as vital to that engineering process, for all the wonderful attributes you eloquently identify and support. They could, with their experience, add a critical thinking dimension to the whole process that would otherwise be missing. They may even find that certain sections of wall could be made into a positive thing, or that they could convince the closed-minded that a wall in certain areas may be less effective than some other equally effective barrier that enhances the environment. And it would set an example for countless other such grand engineering projects across the nation from which we as a profession are generally excluded.THAT would be the AIA appropriately supporting the profession as it pertains to a border wall.
Jodi,At risk of accidentally squandering the goodwill I've managed to engender from you I'd have to say I agree with you while disagreeing.
1) I personally don't think we need to re-define what an Architect is on the grand scale, but don't disagree that we certainly should be open to looking at it regularly to assure its current definitions (state licensing ones, AIA's) are relevant to a rapidly changing world. However, two points to make here, nb on "critical thinking.":
a) "Critical thinking" cannot be a defining characteristic of what it means to be an Architect. It is a prerequisite, but it is not unique to Architects. Most intellectual fields involve a high level of critical thought and if we define Architects first as "critical thinkers" we essentially define our profession out of existence.
b) Many of the problems with our profession is an excess of thinking, under the guise of being critical. The bulk of the profession is literally grounded in reality. An Architect's ability to bridge the worlds of real and theoretical in the building field are what make us stand out. Without rationality, reason, tradition and logic/science to ground it "critical thinking" becomes no more useful to a building construction or design than poetry.
2) Again, two points:
a) There is nothing innate about a wall that "demands moral considerations" any more than any other construction project. There are moral implications to a guillotine, or a concentration camp. But to a mere wall? Do we fret over the moral implications of a picket fence around a property? Or of a front door? Or the lock upon it? Or the security system inside? That political partisans have done so with this project does not obligate us (as Architects) to accept their artificial attribution. If anything, I'd argue that a commitment to critical thinking obligates us to instead if anything, question the validity of such an arbitrary attribution.
b) If we are critical thinkers, we ought to apply it with a fairly consistent rigor. Notably, concluding "we cannot build any form of this proposed wall without adversely affecting the community, environment AND budget" without any serious study of that issue seems like, rather, the failure to think critically. It is a political conclusion, not a critical one. Critically thinking about the wall would be to think more along the lines of "It seems it has a lot of negatives. Let's study them to sort that out. Let's parse the idea wall building into sub-categories and see where opportunities exist to mitigate the negatives. If we still see some, let's try deconstructing the very notion of "wall" and then re-apply that to the stated programmatic need and see if there's a solution that avoids the remaining negatives.
Anything else, is, in my opinion, not Architecture, let alone something to do with the profession of practicing that the AIA is ostensibly (and handsomely) paid by us to do.
PS: Thanks for engaging thoughtfully on this! Refreshing! :-)
Last one as you are probably all getting tired of me!Great point, James. Saying "no" without discovery and discussion is just as bad as saying "yes" without the same care.
Michael, you have not squandered any good will at all. The discussion has informed me and pushed me to try to separate politics from what I see as a core principle of architecture, to inform the project for greater success. Thank you.
I see what you are saying about "critical thinking" not being a defining characteristic, but I restate that it must be a characteristic!
I need to stop talking about the wall – this was the topic that launched the thought I was trying to make, but the wall is just one example of one project that must be informed or perhaps even denied, based on design aspects such as cost, environmental degradations, and potential effects on community.
Think of a house project instead, intended to be within allowable flood areas, with all the bells and whistles of resiliency including some protections and some wet-flood proofing (recovery) measures. This may be legally fine, but if I was aware of a science-based study that provided additional information calling for a higher level of caution or even indicating that building in this location was foolhardy, I would expand my design inputs to suggest moving uphill, reducing the investment, building with a radical pontoon-based system, or even abandoning the project. If I knew that building on that site would create resiliency issues for the community or the neighbor slightly downstream, I would speak up. I guess that it what I am trying to portray as the valuable "critical thinking" skill we need to apply.
I have been told that architects should design what the owner says they want. But I know our value comes in helping the owners identify not only what they want, but what they need, what safety allows, what the environment can handle, and what is possible.
This may still sound theoretical or visionary, yet I cannot bring myself to accept that architects are mere suppliers.
I have two questions for COTE:
M A R K G A N G I, AIA, LEED AP
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I do separate politics from this discussion. That's why I split the discussion into two aspects. Regarding the first, apolitical intent to understand what an "architect" is: My interest lies in recognizing our impact and responsibility regarding resources, health of communities, climate change, and budget management, and encouraging the AIA to support our value in that work.
I think this is where we have different perspectives, as I do not associate environmental, risk awareness/avoidance, health/safety of building users, or inclusion of our well-informed inputs into budget controls as political.
Jodi Smits Anderson, AIA, LEED-AP BD+C
Director Sustainability Programs
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Yes, but providing "inputs" on those topics ought to be professionally oriented."Well informed" professional advice hardly includes offering moral judgements of a client's construction project. That's not Architecture, it's more like theology.An Architect, as a person, is nothing without such moral perspectives, and those moral perspectives will rightly drive the Architect's personal perspective on the professional services they provide and how they do so. But that doesn't mean the moral judgements themselves are or should be Architectural services, nor that an organization like the AIA ought to take policy positions on a moral position as so many are here arguing.
I'll put it another way (and only somewhat tongue in cheek): if offering moral opinions of a project's aspects is an Architectural service, at which phase is it provided? Is it a Core Service? Pre-design? Post-occupancy? Seems mostly like feasibility stage.
This has been a stimulating discussion, and very valuable. My opinion is that COTE should be a place where ecosystem, human community, and economic impacts of any proposed project are freely discussed: we are, after all, about the "Environment" in a very broad sense, and how the profession can contribute to positive impacts. Personally, I think Ed Mazria and others have made very strong arguments as to why the proposed border wall is just a plain bad idea all around, but I also recognize that the AIA membership doesn't uniformly agree. So perhaps we shouldn't ask AIA to take a public position on "The Wall", but continue to discuss it (and other impactful policies) here. We can follow our own ethical standards in our practice, and affect political decisions through organizations (like NRDC, for example) to which "The Wall" is unambiguously offensive.
That said, I am completely comfortable with AIA and COTE efforts to publicly advocate for the preservation the science and basic research coming out of the EPA and DOE: information that is useful for finding design strategies are effective in saving energy and support health and welfare.
Steven E. Blais, AIA, LEED AP BD+C
I used the wall as an example, as that was where the conversation began. As that subject is too political, I tried to split my comments into two parts. One of a personal perspective on the wall project, and a second topic on the role of architect. Let's see if we can make that separation stick this time.My perspective on the role of architect includes the certainty that our value as a profession is clear when we bring knowledge to the table on all the aspects of the work, including budget information, materials management, health of building occupants, affect on community, integration of the project with the site and larger environmental systems, etc. This should be our core service. Of necessity this will include aspects of resiliency, sustainability, and awareness in issues of climate change and social/environmental justice.My understanding of the role of architect is confirmed by the AIA through messaging such as this recent advertisement. How can we "better" our work without a comprehensive approach to that work? The answer is that we cannot.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UENtvNuN8kg