“Let us not be complicit in building Trump’s wall!”: US architects battle over helping Donald Trump

Image: AP Photo/Gregory Bull
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Architects have a unique insight into Donald Trump’s mind. A real estate mogul who amassed his fortune by building gilded towers, hotels, and casinos, many big-name architects have first hand experience with the president-elect’s methods and menace.

To the dismay of its members, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) immediately declared its blanket support for the incoming administration, hours after the results of the elections were confirmed. One of Trump’s few proposals to receive bipartisan support calls for a round of public investment in construction to boost growth and create jobs—including for architects.

“During the campaign, President-elect Trump called for committing at least $500 billion to infrastructure spending over five years. We stand ready to work with him and with the incoming 115th Congress to ensure that investments in schools, hospitals and other public infrastructure continue to be a major priority,” wrote AIA CEO Robert Ivy, committing its 89,000 professional members to work with the president-elect.

Many AIA members rejected Ivy’s agreeable statement on their behalf, calling it “craven,” “spineless” and “feckless”.

Ivy, in defense, said he simply echoed president Obama’s call for acceptance and solidarity with the incoming administrations. But architects and designers argue that such uncritical support for ethically questionable leadership is dangerous. In particular, many rejected Trump’s main architecture priority: Build a wall along the US southern border.

Editors of the Architect’s Newspaper, declared their position in a strongly worded statement:

It is anathema to this editorial board to fathom the positive impact of such a work of infrastructure as the proposed border wall or its attendant detention centers, federal and private prisons, and militarized infrastructure that would be necessary in order to achieve the President-Elect’s stated deportation policy goals. To ignore the role design and designers could play in instituting and perpetuating the inequality inherent in the racist patriarchy Trump’s ideology embodies is irresponsible and reprehensible.

In a powerful, call-to-arms called “Architecture Against Trump,” published on Nov. 12, architect-urbanist Michael Sorkin also rejected AIA’s offer for unconditional cooperation, and encouraged fellow architects to be discerning of the motivations behind Trump’s infrastructure projects.

We do not welcome Donald Trump to the White House and will revile and oppose him until he can conclusively demonstrate that the hideous pronouncements and proposals of his campaign have demonstrably been set aside and in favor of positions and actions that genuinely seek to serve our national cause and purpose—to build a better America rooted in the principles of justice, equity, and human dignity.

Working with architect Michael Murphy, the lead designer for a lynching memorial in Alabama on the statement, Sorkin called for architects to rally against proposals that institutionalize racial discrimination and anti-immigrant priorities.

“We call upon the AIA to stand up for something beyond a place at the table where Trump’s cannibal feast will be served,” he wrote. ”Let us not be complicit in building Trump’s wall but band together to take it down!”