AIA National Ethics Council response to the border wall

In January 2017, at the behest of then-AIA President Thomas Vonier, FAIA, the Institute’s National Ethics Council reviewed key questions surrounding the Trump Administration’s proposed wall along the U.S./Mexico border. What follows is the NEC’s response in its entirety.

On January 25, 2017, President Donald J. Trump issued an executive order entitled Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements. It directs executive departments and agencies to secure the southern border of the United States through the immediate construction of a physical wall on the southern border, among other directives related to the physical border and related law enforcement policies.  The executive order and subsequent policymaking by the Trump Administration represent an evident intent to embark on immigration policy changes and construction on a large scale, with potentially far-reaching effects on property, civil, and human rights.

Though the National Ethics Council (NEC) does not typically comment on current issues of public concern, the scale and potential impact of the border wall executive order reflect a unique situation. The views of the NEC are offered to AIA members as they consider the possible ethical implications of work in this area.  

AIA Members have an ethical obligation to their profession, the public, and the environment to consider the impacts of any project. The decision of a Member or firm to respond to a request for proposal (RFP) or qualification (RFQ) for a border wall may require an in-depth analysis on the part of the architect or the firm of several issues.  The considerations relevant to the building of a continuous border wall may include but not be limited to:

  • The impact of the placement and construction of a wall on private land ownership and use.
  • The impact of the wall on public land use and resources.
  • The impact of the proposed wall on ecosystems, including migratory patterns and the habitat of plant and wildlife. Hydrological impacts, including potential interruption of drainage patterns and flow.
  • The impact of the placement of a wall separating native (indigenous) communities from or damaging sacred sites and burial grounds. ​​​
  • The impact on archaeological or paleontological sites. ​
  • The prerogative of a private business to freely decide how and whether to participate in border wall related projects.

If a Member chooses to engage in professional services related to the border wall, these considerations will likely remain relevant in regards to how such services are executed. The AIA Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct applies to the professional activities of all classes of membership wherever they occur. It includes mandatory Rules of Conduct, violation of which is grounds for disciplinary action by the Institute. Charges of such violations can be decided only upon the facts and circumstances of specific individual cases brought before the NEC. With that in mind, the NEC advises members to consider carefully the possible application of the Rules of Conduct in every project they undertake. The National Ethics Council is not in a position, however, to offer a general opinion here about whether a member's involvement in providing professional services related to the border wall would give rise to a violation of any Rule of Conduct.  

The Code of Ethics also includes Ethical Standards (E.S.) which are not mandatory but, rather, aspirational. Even if a Rule of Conduct may not intersect with a specific ethical challenge, Members are encouraged to turn to the Standards for guidance.

Applicable Ethical Standards in this instance may include:

E.S. 1.3 Natural and Cultural Heritage: Members should respect and help conserve their natural and cultural heritage while striving to improve the environment and the quality of life within it.

E.S. 1.5 Design for Human Dignity and the Health, Safety, and Welfare of the Public: Members should employ their professional knowledge and skill to design buildings and spaces that will enhance and facilitate human dignity and the health, safety, and welfare of the individual and the public.


E.S. 6.1 Sustainable Design: In performing professional services, Members should advocate the design, construction, and operation of sustainable buildings and communities.

One application of the AIA Code of Ethics is to give tools to Members to consider ethical choices from different contexts and points of view. The AIA Code of Ethics should provide a framework for discussion and action within a firm, between AIA colleagues and components, and in interactions between AIA members, clients, and the general public.

Antitrust Statement

The AIA and its members are committed to the highest ethical standards and full compliance with all laws and regulations, including federal and state antitrust laws. By complying with both the letter and spirit of antitrust laws, we protect the integrity of our profession and the reputation of the AIA.

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