US President-elect, Donald Trump, has been causing controversy, throughout his campaign, by his shocking statements. His words divided the American society; a division that extended to the architectural community.
The split in the architectural community was highlighted by, Chief Executive Officer of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), Robert Ivy’s pledge to work with Trump, following the latter’s election as US president. Ivy wrote in a formal statement: “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 statement caused an uproar in the architectural community. The majority disapproved of Ivy’s statement and his acting on his own. They started questioning the values of the AIA, referring to Trump’s racist statements and denial of climate change.
On the issue of Racism, The Equity Alliance, which promotes diversity of thought and inclusion of “women and people of color” in the architecture profession, accused Ivy of prolonging “the white male privilege” in the field. That is by supporting someone known for segregating people based on race, gender, creed, and sexual orientation, contradicting the values they aspire to. The students of Yale School of Architecture, similarly, accused the AIA of continuing the troubled past of architecture “plagued by a history of racial and gender inequity.” They, also, accused the AIA of pursuing financial gain at the expense of their values.
Some architects addressed the issue of the Southern border wall; the wall Trump has promised on the American borders with Mexico to prevent undocumented immigrant flow. The proposal has been considered by many as xenophobic and racist. The Architecture Lobby, which advocates for the value of labor in architecture, accused the AIA of supporting Trump’s border wall by approving of his infrastructure plan. Jonathan Massey, Dean of Architecture at California College of the Arts, agrees with the Architecture Lobby on that account. He accused the AIA of putting “Economic interest above ethics,” and aligning itself with white backlash by implicitly approving of a wall that secures “white prosperity through racial exclusion.”
Besides racism, Trump’s statement on global warming, claiming it is a Chinese hoax, makes the AIA’s pledge more questionable. Architect and critic Michael Sorkin harshly criticized the president-elect for his ignorant statement on climate change, and accordingly, he described Ivy’s words as “an embarrassment.” Sorkin urged the AIA to “stand up for something beyond a place at the table where Trump’s cannibal feast will be served!” He called for the architectural community’s collaboration to take down Trump’s wall, instead of building it.
Sorkin was not the only one to call for action. Ed Mazria, founder and CEO of Architecture 2030, called for a bottom-up approach to face climate change quoting Cultural Anthropologist Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.” While Tom Jacobs, a representer of Architects Advocate for Action on Climate Change, urged architects to take his group as an example and form other groups to advocate causes like affordable housing and pay equality. He, also, called for their effective participation in making decisions.
Backed into a corner, The AIA had to go back on its former pledge and apologize. The 2016 president of the AIA Russel Davidson described the statement as a mistake, and Ivy himself described it as tone deaf. They reassured the architectural community that they shall stand for its values represented in “diversity, equity, and inclusion” and defend their sustainability agenda. They, also, promised listening sessions across the country, in hopes of healing that recent rift.