Monday, August 6, 2018

Refuse Or Confront?; July 30, 2018

Hello Everyone:

It is a very toasty Monday and a fresh week on the blog.  Before we get going on today's subject--should designers remake immigrant detention centers--wee advice.  If you are the subject of major federal investigation, stay off the social media.  Apparently Mr. Donald Trump continues to ignore this bit of wisdom because he tweeted over the weekend, concerning his "wonderful son," Donald Trump, Jr., aggrevating the possible legal trouble he is facing over the infamous meeting at Trump Tower.  In a single tweet, the president implicated his eldest son in attempted collusion.  CNN reported that the president was asked not to tweet about the meeting anymore.  A wee too late.  Onward

 Think about the government and institutional buildings where you live.  The architects and engineers used a specific visual vocabulary to emphasize the authority of the state.  Prisons and detention centers are no different.  The bleakness of the facilities is meant to stress the punishment aspect of the space.  In 2015 the American Institute of Architects, the main professional body, issued a statement refusing to censure members who accept prison commissions that include solitary confinement cells and a death row.  The organization Architects, Designers, and Planners for Social Responsibility have called for a total boycott of such commissions.  

The question facing many architects are dealing with is "whether to work toward reforming immigrant detention or whether to refuse to be any part of it."  The same holds true for designing penal facilities.  In recent years architects have posited (; July 14, 2017; date accessed Aug. 6, 2018) a new-model humane detention facilities (; Mar. 15, 2018; date accessed Aug. 6, 2018). Frank Gehry led a studios at Yale and SCI-Arc on the future of incarceration (; Dec. 21, 2017; date accessed Aug. 6, 2018).  Since 2012, hundreds of architects have joined the ADPSR prison design boycott (; Nov. 1, 2012; date accessed Aug. 6, 2018).

The American Institute of Architects has not endorsed this boycott.  It is not clear who is responsible for designing the current detention facilities.  Some of the facilities were completed by government contracted design or engineering firms, possibly involving architects.  CityLab's Amanda Kolson Hurley notes, "A licensed architect presumably would have had to sign off on the renovation of the Walmart that is Casa Padre."

There is precedence detention center reform. In 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, "authorizing the U.S. military to round up to people of Japanese on the West Coast and confine them in camps."  Japanese-American designer sculptor and designer Isamu Noguchi (1904-88) was living in New York and therefore, exempt from the order.  However, he did something unusual in response: He chose to turn himself in.

After talking to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the federal agency overseeing the Japanese internment camps, Mr. Noguchi received approval the idea.  He drove himself to Poston War Relocation Center in Arizona and checked in.   His plans included an arts and crafts program for his fellow internees and remaking camp conditions in a more humane manner.  Isamu Noguchi wrote in an Reader's Digest essay, "I Become Nisei," before leaving for Poston:

...Because of my peculiar background, I felt this war very keenly, wished to serve the cause of democracy in the best way that seemed open to me,..., a haunting sense of unreality, of not quite belonging, which had always bothered me, made seek for an answer among the Nisei,... (; Jan. 31, 2017; date accessed Aug. 6, 2018)

None of his plans came to fruition.  Isamu Noguchi was just another prisoner, albeit one with privileges.

Isamu Noguchi's story is a unique one, but relevant as shocking revelations of detention centers along the U.S.-Mexican border regularly make the news.  Blogger does not need to review the nearly daily litany of horror: Children drugged and shackled, housed in cages. One shelter, Casa Padre in Brownsville, Texas, is a former Walmart Supercenter (; June 14, 2018; date accessed Aug. 6, 2018), has received a great deal of attention. The shelter currently is home to 1,500 teen boys (mostly unaccompanied minors), "with five boys sharing bedrooms intended for four (; June 14, 2018; date accessed Aug. 6, 2018).  The bedrooms don't have doors or ceilings.  Black mesh reportedly covers the windows, and the boys stay inside 22 hours a day."  As an advocate of adaptive re-use, Blogger vehemently disapproves of this project. 

This begs the question, "What is the role of a socially conscious architect in this crisis?"  Theoretically, architects could improve conditions by designing or lobbying government to provide spaces that feature sufficient space, natural light, proper ventilation, access to the outdoors, and a modicum of privacy for individuals and families.

Would efforts prove as futile as Isamu Noguchi's efforts to improve facilities from the inside.  Would it mean compromising their ethic?  

On June 20, the Architecture Lobby and Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility issued a statement calling for a complete boycott of immigrant detention design commissions.  The organizations call on members and allied professionals to refuse to participate in the design of any immigration enforcement infrastructure,..., including but not limited to walls, checkpoints, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) offices, detention facilities, processing centers, or juvenile holding centers (; date accessed Aug. 6, 2018). 

Amanda Kolson Hurley recently asked Keefer Dunn, an architect affiliated with The Architecture Lobby and Dana McKinney, a designer at Gehry Partners (; date accessed Aug. 6, 2018) "Should Designers Try to Reform Immigrant Detention?"  The question is an important one because architecture, among other things, is a political act.

Keefer Dunn is a Chicago-based architect and co-founder of Pigeon Studio and is a lecturer at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.  Mr. Dunn is also an advocate of labor reform in architecture and former national organizer for The Architecture Lobby.  His position is "refuse together."  Mr. Dunn told CityLab

we've received comments from well-meaning colleagues that it is better for architects to be participating in these projects in order to mitigate their ill-effects.  Good intentions asides, he believes that this point of view incorrect.  Instead Mr. Dunn urges 

....the substantial number of architects who are appalled by families being ripped apart and the dehumanizing of people to think about the political nature of work differently.

This is a recognition of the fact of TAL's responsibility they have to the profession and society to change the context of their work.  Mr. Dunn said,

Belief in the power of "design thinking tells us that our buildings and spaces might have some positive effect on politics and the economy, and he,onus find meaning in a profession where we work too long for too little.  It's a nice narrative, but it obfuscates the simple truth that politics is about power...

Although we might believe in the power of architecture, this "power" pales in comparison to the power of the carceral state, of finance capital, and of the system that has naturally tuned itself to extract as much value from the land and workers as possible without regard to the wellbeing of either.  Architecture's power doesn't hold a candle to racism, sexism, homophobia,..., any other oppression that benefits the entrenched elite through division....

We have the ability to change the rules of he game--... the political and economic context that undergirds our profession....

Individual refusal on ethical grounds is a great start, but it is only through building s critics, mass of people who refuse together that we can pressure our professional organizations, employers, and politicians not to accept the status quo.... This means actions like strikes, pledges by firms to work on these projects, work slowdowns, boycotts, and other organized workplace actions.

This kind of organized refusal from below is not a pipe dream.  It is what has brought about progressive reform in the history of this country.  If we want to see an end to inhumanity and go beyond it to build a better world, we must band together for what we believe in, and against what we we don't.

Dana McKinney believes that confronting the inhumanity of detention centers is the better approach.  Ms. McKinney is an architectural designer with Gehry Partners in Los Angeles.  Her design and research practice incorporates principles of social justice, focusing on prison design, aging in place, and affordable housing.  She is the co-founder of EcoCity Studios, which teaches at-risk students design and software skills.  As a student at Harvard Graduate School of Design, she helped establish the Black in Design Conference in 2015.  Ms. McKinney told CityLab,

In response, The Architecture Lobby and ADPSR issued a joint statement denouncing and calling on designers to boycott any involvement in immigration detention.  Although this position is understandable,..., now is not the time for designers to abdicate their professional and ethical responsibilities.  Absent significant policy reform, the government will build more detention centers.  Instead of refusing services in building detention facilities, design professionals should take the lead and devise alternative environments to house immigrants with dignity.

Design should serve everyone, especially vulnerable populations.  Instead, it has historically benefited those who are privileged, much at the expense of low-income, black, brown, and immigrant communities.  Today, undocumented immigrants stand among the nation's most at-risk populations, a consequence of their race, national origin, class, and language.

The U.S. government will construct new detention centers.  Designers should view this an an opportunity to serve the undocumented individual and families.... I challenge designers to subvert attempts to dehumanize immigrants through caging and isolation, and propel a humane alternative.  We can encourage the government to house immigrant families in safe, well-serviced environments.

Each day, undocumented immigrants are confined to detainment center, state and federal prisons, and soon, to "tent cities...." 

Cities offer tremendous resources to supplement immigration services: proximity to social infrastructure, healthcare, transit, and public programming.  Temporary urban housing, in lieu of traditional custody, could provide sanctuary for immigrants awaiting adjudication and access to these resources.

We should not presume the criminality of undocumented people.  We should view them for who they are: people seeking refuge or a better life.  Detention facilities control immigrants' whereabouts at the unnecessary expense of their freedom...

Designers must insist that families remain together [#KeepFamiliesTogether]. Today's state-sponsored practice of family separation echoed that of the American slave trade--... and has a particularly harmful effect on youth.  Families deserve a home that affords privacy, space, and warmth, all of which reinforce humanity and protect intimate personal life.

Design is fundamentally a human-centric endeavor for the benefit of all.... We must compose spaces that protects the well-being of the entire public.  In he context of immigrant detention,new must advocate for humane treatment of immigrant families through alternative physical environments.

Now is the time for action.  We must stand up for the vulnerable, rectify this human right crisis, and steer the nation toward more compassionate reform ahead.

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