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Local architects join discussion on Trump letter

Austin chapter answers AIA vice-president’s statement on new administration

Earlier this week, Curbed.com reported on the controversy that erupted after a post-election message issued by American Institute of Architects Executive Vice-President Robert Ivy, in which he asserted 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.”

There was immediate backlash from AIA members, press, non-member architects, and professional design critics, according to the Curbed article, who issued varied statements regarding the general and specific ways in which Ivy did not represent them or their views.

Ivy issued a follow-up statement and video apology, and AIA President Russell Davidson announced that he would conduct listening tour with the membership. Nevertheless, the whole affair brought up questions about architectural ethics and the role of architects in situations that could potentially compromise those values.

Yesterday, after a long discussion with its board of directors, AIA Austin President JIm Susman weighed in on the matter with a letter that echoed the sentiments of other objections, expressing concern that however “well-intentioned” Ivy’s message might have been, the “perception of many is that both the content and the timing left the impression that the AIA was self-serving and pandering to the newly elected President at the expense of the very heartfelt social concerns of many AIA members.” Susman also pointed out that the group’s core mission and values are similar to the “non-partisan (not bi-partisan) baselines for a civil society” and called for assurance that “advocacy of Architecture is not placed above all other social issues, particularly on the heels of such a raw and divisive campaign.”

Susman’s statement joins a growing, somewhat unified response to Ivy’s sentiment, even after his apology, including a Change.org petition calling on AIA to adopt the human rights standards proposed by the group Architects / Designers / Planners for Social Responsibility.

The full text of Susman’s letter to Ivy is below.

Dear Robert,

Following our Board of Directors meeting yesterday and on behalf of the Austin Chapter of the AIA, I am compelled to convey the questions surrounding your statement last week and the expressed commitment to working with the President-elect "to address the issues our country faces…”. After a very thoughtful discussion at our meeting yesterday, we are concerned that however well-intentioned your message may have been, the perception of many is that both the content and the timing left the impression that the AIA was self-serving and pandering to the newly elected President at the expense of the very heartfelt social concerns of many AIA members.

While healing may have been the intent, to state that your comments were on behalf of 89,000 AIA members was presumptuous and, perhaps more disconcerting, misleading. Going forward, the AIA must certainly recognize its responsibility to continue to maintain a policy of inclusion, openness, and discourse. These are values that are close to our core Mission and are non-partisan (not bi-partisan) baselines for a civil society. In the future, we must carefully review our public statements within the context of our responsibility and remember that for many, the advocacy of Architecture is not placed above all other social issues, particularly on the heels of such a raw and divisive campaign.

We appreciate the sincerity of the videotaped apology from you and President Russ Davidson, FAIA. Take these comments and advice as a reflection of our continued commitment to the Mission and Values of the AIA. We all have the best interests of both our country and the AIA at heart, and as the experience illustrates there are times when a nuanced but real distinction exists.

Sincerely,

Jim Susman

President, AIA

Principal, STG

What should architects do about Trump? [Curbed.com]