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Proposed Amendment

It’s worth noting that AIA's Ethics Code already contains Ethical Standard 1.4: Human Rights: “Members should uphold human rights in all their professional endeavors.”[1]  However, Ethics Code Standards are not enforceable, only ethics Rules are enforceable.  There is only one Rule under the human rights Standard, which addresses non-discrimination. There is currently no commentary addressing the application of any international human rights standards to the AIA Code. We are proposing a new Rule and associated commentary (only the language of the Rule itself is binding).


Proposed Rule 1.402:

Members shall not design spaces intended for execution or for torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, including prolonged solitary confinement.

Proposed Commentary:

The Convention Against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights prohibit “torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” (ICCPR Article 7) and ICCPR also requires that “all persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person” (Article 10). Prolonged solitary confinement has been identified as a form of torture by the United Nations Human Rights Council, Committee Against Torture, and the Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Changes to the Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct are reviewed by the AIA National Ethics Council and adopted by the AIA Board of Directors.  Our petition will go the AIA Board of Directors with your signature here.

Potential Enforcement of the Ethics Code Amendment

It is not ADPSR’s goal to “point fingers” at architects who have designed specific buildings. The UN interpretation of solitary confinement beyond 15 days as torture is new (fall 2011), and the psychological effects of solitary confinement were not convincingly documented in the psychological literature until recently.  The United States has a tragic collection of already designed and built supermax prisons and execution chambers that should be closed; however, the designers of those facilities from the previous three decades or so should not be censured by the AIA National Ethics Council.

Neither do we believe that AIA would want to censure every project at a prison. Architects cannot be held responsible for the unintended use of the buildings they design, or for later alterations made to their buildings by their clients. A person can be tortured or executed in a kitchen or a church or any other building; there is no way that the designer of those spaces has responsibility for what people do inside. 

However, when designing new execution chambers or supermax facilities architects do know what their clients intend to do in those spaces. California’s Pelican Bay State Prison, for example, has over 1,000 isolation cells. Accepting the UN definition of 15 days as the acceptable limit of solitary confinement (while calling for the eventual abolition of all solitary confinement), it is simply not credible that the entire population of the building will be cycled in and out every 15 days. Architects have a special responsibility for not designing future Pelican Bays because these places use the special provisions architects make in the design of the building to create the cruel, degrading and inhumane condition of torture.  Architects should not design execution chambers because it conflicts with our responsibility to design spaces that protect the health, safety, and welfare of their occupants.

ADPSR's Petition

To view or sign our petition to AIA requesting the code amendment, or to see who else has signed, please click here. Please remember to list if you are an AIA member when you sign.