The AIA Won’t Touch Palestine With a Ten-Foot Pole
The ousting of an AIA Middle East president spotlights the gap between the organization’s words and deeds.
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AIA Middle East president removed after organizing a webinar on the “ethnic cleansing of Palestine”
by Zach Mortice
In May of last year, president of AIA Middle East Ali Lari thought he had done a rather difficult thing: diffused a sensitive political situation without compromising the AIA’s stated commitments to equity and human rights.
The topic at hand was the occupation of Palestine by Israel. That spring, Israel’s (still ongoing) blockade and repression of Palestine had ignited into a major flashpoint that killed more than 240 Palestinians and displaced 52,000. Israel’s conduct has been roundly condemned by the United Nations, Human Rights Watch, and other humanitarian organizations. The intensely asymmetrical conflict is often explained in explicitly architectural and urban planning terms. By way of example, the Michael Sorkin and Deen Sharp–edited anthology Open Gaza: Architectures of Hope presents the built condition of the Gaza Strip as a harbinger of widening circles of surveillance, provisional adaptive reuse, resource scarcity, and colonial occupation. “The United Nations a few months ago declared that Israel’s practices are tantamount to apartheid,” says Lari. “Apartheid is an urban policy and urban design issue.”
Lari tells NYRA that he reached out to fellow members of the AIA Middle East Board of Directors Executive Committee about issuing a statement on “the conflict’s urban and architectural dimensions, including ethnic cleansing in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem and the destruction in Gaza in perpetuation of the apartheid practices therein.” When the six-member executive committee mentioned this proposal to AIA National in Washington, DC, 2021 AIA president Peter Exley suggested it would be best for AIA Middle East to not get involved in contentious political matters. “The AIA believes that such political matters are not properly the province of neutral professional societies,” Exley wrote to Sherif Anis, cofounder of AIA Middle East (a regional chapter of the AIA) and its volunteer executive director on May 20, 2021. A few days later, in a letter to Lari and Anis, Exley wrote, “any statement on this conflict beyond a call for peace and unity has significant potential to create irreparable political and professional damage to the AIA in the US and the world.” The tone from National struck Lari as inconsistent with the progressive stance on social justice and racial equality the AIA had staked out in the wake of the 2020 George Floyd uprisings. Anis had concerns as well, even though he acknowledged that the AIA Middle East board would likely support a statement of solidarity with Palestine. In text messages to Lari, Anis told him that “ANYTHING having to do with Israel is a HUGE issue and you know that. The pro-Israel lobby in the US is beyond influential and these guys [presumably referring to AIA National leadership] are going to be quite limp in light of this.”
The era of efficient, “green” buildings is over. What will take its place?
A conversation between Daniel A. Barber, Elisa Iturbe, and Elise Misao Hunchuck
Daniel Barber: I want to draw out a distinction that’s made in the language used by the IPCC between efficiency and sufficiency. Many, but not all, contemporary buildings work much more efficiently than their older counterparts. But the energy-saving innovations that go into these buildings—perfectly tuned glass panels, solar arrays, induced ventilation—are outpaced by the sheer amount of square footage going up in our cities daily. So in a sense, we’re back at zero. It’s interesting, then, that in AR6, the IPCC proposes a shift to focusing on sufficiency. To quote from the report, “Sufficiency is about long-term action driven by nontechnical solutions, which consume less energy in absolute terms.” The report lists a number of sufficiency interventions, including bioclimatic design and circular materials, as well as lifestyle changes that emphasize usership rather than ownership of appliances. What that really means is less heating and cooling, less concrete, less electricity, but also less square footage and less demand for resources across the board. The bottom line: we have to do more with less.
More than you might think.
By Alana Pockros
When we look back at cultural movements, we often explain them as “reactions.” It’s a framework that allows us to divide the chaos of history into neat, orderly sections and provide rationales for what is not easy to decipher. Most frequently, the reactions we speak of arise in relation to phenomena like economics, politics, or global disasters: struggles so troubling and destabilizing that the artistic and cultural expression that follows ends up embodying their polar opposite.
In 1915—early on in WWI, in an austere and imperial Europe—a German architect named Walter Gropius was stationed in Muasson, France, when he started daydreaming about what a better, freer future might look like. He imagined a creative playground of sorts, where artisans, architects, sculptors, painters, textile designers, and other object-makers would design cohesive spaces—Gesamtkunstwerks—that prioritized aesthetics and functionality in equal measure. It was a progressive, almost utopian concept; an idea of a world made by men and women for men and women, and replicable enough to reach across socioeconomic classes. For Gropius, living in wartime, it was a liberatory aspiration.
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