Shortly after President-elect Donald Trump’s victory, the head of the American Institute of Architects — a 159-year-old professional architecture group that has almost 300 chapters across the United States — issued a pledge of support on behalf of its members.
“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,” said the group’s chief executive and vice president, Robert Ivy, in the post-Election Day statement. “During the campaign, President-elect Trump called for committing at least $500 billion to infrastructure spending over five years.”
Amid Trump’s many campaign promises, declarations to improve infrastructure were a constant theme. “We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals. We’re going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none,” Trump said during his acceptance speech on Nov. 9.
The AIA vowed to work with Trump and the incoming Congress, to “ensure that investments in schools, hospitals and other public infrastructure” remained “a major priority.” Noting the election was “hard-fought” and “contentious,” the statement said, “It is now time for all of us to work together to advance policies that help our country move forward.”
In the declaration to embrace Trump, the AIA joined a group that includes corporations like shoemaker New Balance and Pennsylvania brewery D.G. Yuengling & Son. And like the sneaker fires and beer boycotts that raged on social media, the blowback within the architectural community was fierce.
On Nov. 11, the editorial board of the Architect’s Newspaper issued a blistering critique of the AIA pledge. The board “strongly disagrees with Ivy’s conciliatory note” in the aftermath of a Trump campaign it called “racist, misogynist, and hateful.” The trade publication warned that architects who contributed to the “proposed border wall or its attendant detention centers, federal and private prisons, and militarized infrastructure” would be perpetuating inequality and the “racist patriarchy of Trump’s ideology.”
Some architects were dismayed by AIA’s tone, which they saw less as congratulatory than salivatory, toward the incoming Trump administration. The AIA’s “only serious interest as an organization has become a craven interest in securing our piece of the action,”said Baltimore-based architect Frederick Read. Read resigned from the AIA on the Thursday after Election Day, over objections that the organization “does not represent my personal or professional interests,” according to a letter he sent to the Baltimore chapter and obtained by the Architect’s Newspaper.
Other AIA members were critical of the statement in light of architecture’s historical reputation as a career dominated by white men. A group of architects with the Equity Alliance argued that Ivy had “perpetuated our profession’s white, male privilege when you offered the Institute’s support for a person known for promoting a worldview that threatens to pit us against one another on the basis of our race, gender, creed, or sexual orientation.” Trump’s beliefs ran counter to the architectural values of “climate action, promotion of domestic and global projects that are humane and socially just, and equity, diversity and inclusion in both practice and representation,” the architects said.
Students at the Yale School of Architecture lamented that the AIA “resigned itself to a cowardly position of economic and political subservience” in an open letter denouncing the endorsement. “We have an ethical responsibility not to erect walls that divide,” the students wrote, “but to lay the foundation for a more unified, just, and safe society.”
First by inches and then by yards, the AIA heads walked back from the statement. On Saturday, Ivy and President Russell Davidson wrote to the Architect’s Newspaper. As a bipartisan organization, the men wrote, “The AIA remains firmly committed to advocating for the values and principles that will create a more sustainable, inclusive and humane world. The spirit and intention behind our statement is consistent with and in support of President Obama’s eloquent call for us all to unite for the best interest of America’s future.”
Subsequently, on Tuesday, Ivy and Davidson issued a video statement, calling the initial commitment to work with President-elect Trump “tone deaf.”
By Thursday, a written apology also appeared on the AIA website. “We deeply regret the harm that our statement caused,” said Ivy and Davidson in the third, latest message. “We understand why our members are upset. Many of the president-elect’s statements and policies run counter to the values of AIA and its members. Let us be clear: we will be unwavering in our adherence to these values with this new administration.”
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