News Brief

AIA Takes a Stand Against Executions, Solitary Confinement

In a major policy shift, the American Institute of Architects bans its members from designing places for execution, torture, and solitary confinement.

Prisons are not typically the most humanely designed spaces, and now AIA has taken a stand against the worst aspects of correctional facilities.

Photo: Devon Delrio. License: Public domain.
In its 2020 revision of its Code of Ethics, released on December 11, 2020, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) adopted two new rules: Rule 1.403 against the design of spaces intended for execution, and Rule 1.404 against the design of “spaces intended for torture, including indefinite or prolonged solitary confinement.”

This update represents a major departure for the Institute, which has long resisted calls from Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility (ADPSR) and other organizations to limit the role of architects in perpetuating an unjust system of criminal justice, arguing that members shouldn’t be restricted from providing services that are legal and that conform with the norms of American society. In its commentary on the first rule, AIA’s Code of Ethics explains: “Designing spaces intended to end human life is inconsistent with the ideal of upholding human rights. What is lawful and what is ethical are two separate inquiries; acting lawfully may not equate to acting ethically.”

The new rule on torture references UN Resolution 70/175, “United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for Treatment of Prisoners,” also officially named the “Nelson Mandela Rules.” Based on that UN Resolution, it defines “prolonged solitary confinement” as more than 15 consecutive days with “twenty-two (22) hours or more per day without meaningful human contact.”

In celebrating the change, ADPSR argues that the Code of Ethics, as evidence of a public standard of decency, can now become a factor in legal cases regarding torture and execution. ADPSR also notes that most prisons include facilities for solitary confinement, so AIA members who design them will now be required to raise questions about the need for those spaces and how they are intended to be used.

AIA’s Code of Ethics contains both “ethical standards” and “rules.” Ethical standards are aspirational and optional; rules are mandatory. The fact that these changes appear in the form of new rules is significant: members who violate them face sanctions, up to and including loss of membership.

More on AIA's Code of Ethics

AIA Ethics Code Now Covers Sustainability in Depth

For more information

Announcement from AIA

Post from Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility

Designing Justice + Designing Spaces

Published December 14, 2020

Malin, N. (2020, December 14). AIA Takes a Stand Against Executions, Solitary Confinement. Retrieved from

Add new comment

To post a comment, you need to register for a BuildingGreen Basic membership (free) or login to your existing profile.