The New York chapter of the AIA has officially voiced its objection to a proposal by the RIBA to suspend the Israeli Association of United Architects (IAUA) from the International Union of Architects (UIA). A letter drafted by AIANY President Lance Jay Brown and Chief Executive Rick Bell, and unanimously approved by AIANY's board of directors, states that "the UIA's stated goal is to unite the architects of the world without any form of discrimination", and refers to the proposal to suspend the IAUA as "directly antithetical to the purpose of the much appreciated umbrella organization".
The original proposal by the RIBA, adopted on March 19th, condemns the IAUA for its failure to "resist projects on illegally-occupied land" in the West Bank and Gaza, and calls on the UIA to suspend the body until it "acts to resist these illegal projects, and observes international law, and the UIA Accords and Resolution 13."
Read on for more on the controversial backstory to the RIBA's motion
When originally tabled in March, the proposal was immediately controversial: although some big names such as Ted Cullinan, Will Alsop and Charles Jencks publicly supported the motion, a letter written by Daniel Leon of Square Feet Architects and signed by 28 others noted that "it is imperative not to transport the conflict in the Middle East into the Architectural profession but rather use the profession and resources available to encourage dialogue and cooperation". This sentiment is reflected in the letter from AIANY, saying that "the UIA offers an opportunity for architects from around the world to get together to find areas of common cause and resolve."
After news of the motion passed to the US, there was more criticism from architects such as Richard Meier and Daniel Libeskind, who stated that the RIBA's actions "are short-sighted and appear to be an attempt to simplify a very complex issue."
Another cause for criticism is a perceived 'selective outrage' from the RIBA. Paul Finch, writing in the AJ commented "will there be a rush to suspend the Russians because of what is happening in Ukraine? Were the Chinese suspended when they were destroying much of their magnificent built heritage, or invading Tibet? Certainly not." Daniel Leon went one step further, accusing the RIBA of hypocrisy: "If a mirror was held up to the RIBA, should we consider it complicit because some of its members are building in China, Saudi Arabia, Russia or, for that matter, Israel?"
Finally, the RIBA motion has been criticized for punishing Israeli architects for a situation they have no control over. The letter from AIANY states that "it is completely antithetical to the spirit and intent of the UIA to expel a member organization because of the actions of its local government. If that policy had prevailed over the past decades the UIA may have had no membership at all!"
Rick Bell was also quoted last month saying "The idea that RIBA and the UIA could actively influence events through a resolution is patently absurd. World politics is played out on a much bigger stage."
However, not all reaction since the motion was passed has been negative. Israeli architect and Professor at Goldsmiths University Eyal Weizman has written in support of the motion, saying "In the context of Israel’s occupation, architecture — employed for the construction of settlements, segregated roadways, industrial zones, and the wall — is the very means by which these violations are perpetrated... While not all members of the Israel Association of United Architects are involved in building in Occupied Palestinian Territories and many may be against such actions — as an organization it must take an ethical and legal stand, but it has not." He concludes his article with the idea that "non-intervention in this context is not neutral but the taking of a political position for the violent status quo by default."
The motion by the RIBA is set to be discussed at the UIA World Congress in Durban this August.