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More media for Human Rights

More media for Human Rights
Raphael Sperry - Wed Sep 04, 2013 @ 03:15PM
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The past few weeks ahve seen a great deal of interest in ADPSR's proposal to reform the AIA code of ethics. While journalists strive to be objective, I think you can often see a journalists personal position on this debate pretty clearly:


Kudos to The Nation's Michael Sorkin (Drawing the Line: Architects and Prisons, A call for architects to refuse to design chambers of living death) and Rachel Swan in the SF Weekly (Punishment by Design: The Power of Architecture Over the Human Mind) for going in-depth and coming up with strong support for human rights!

A job well done by Frances Anderton of KCRW's "DnA: Design and Architecture" radio show (Should Architects Say No to Designing Cells for Solitary Confinement), who actually keeps her opinions to herself but giving Joe Day, Beverly Prior, and myself the chance to speak for ourselves. It is great to hear Beverly Prior say that ADPSR's position "I think there's a lot of merit to it." She has designed a lot of prisonsa and jails, has been a leader of AIA's Academy of Architecture for Justice and an AIA National board member. Way to go Beverly!

Mixed grades to the LA Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne (Prison design faces judgment). One the one hand, I appreciate his pairing ADPSR's work with Joe Day's book Corrections and Collections (also featured earlier by DnA) -- Joe Day is, incidentally, a strong supporter of ADPSR's proposal, and his supportive reflections on the turn away from the war on drugs. Then there's this:

Sperry, leading the prison-design boycott movement, has described long-term solitary confinement as torture. He has called on the American Institute of Architects to amend its code of ethics and professional conduct to ban members from designing them (or rooms where death-row inmates are executed).

But the moral questions here get tricky pretty quickly. The SHU at Pelican Bay is actually marginally better designed than solitary units at other prisons, in part because of details that the KMD architects insisted on, including a system to bring natural light through perforated doors into each cell.

In a broader sense, the kinds of architects who would sign a ban are also the ones who are most likely, if they were to design a prison, to fully consider the psychological health of inmates. Instead of parsing the details of a massively complex moral quandary, perhaps the goal should be simpler: to aim for a society that produces both better-designed prisons and fewer ones.

Hawthorne should really note that it's not just me, or ADPSR, who describe long-term solitary confinement as torture -- we are following the interpretation of Amnesty International and the Un Special Rapporteur on Torture, and asking AIA to do the same.

I also wish he had distinguished between ADPSR's earlier campaign, the Prison Design Boycott, and our proposal to AIA to ban the design of execution chambers and spaces for prolonged solitary confinement. I khope that if he thought more carefully about the latter proposal we would agree that smaller, better-designed human rights abuses are not what our prison system needs. Know what? I will write him about this piece and let you know what he responds, if he does.

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