These days, trepidation tinges the tone of leaders of U.S. architecture firms and schools that may be affected by the Trump administration’s early moves toward the country’s immigration and travel policies. American designers have worked on projects in Muslim-majority nations for decades, though less so in recent years in the seven countries—Syria, Sudan, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Libya, and Yemen—initially named in President Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order, which he later revoked with a March 6 executive order that removes Iraq from the list, among other administrative changes. However, many firms have and continue to work in demographically similar countries in the region.
The AIA published a statement on Trump's immigration and travel restrictions on Feb. 20, but what do U.S. architecture firms and schools think about their potential implications? For myriad reasons, which may include financial interests or simply reticence, many entities declined speaking to ARCHITECT on the record. However, some representatives were willing to discuss the ban and its effects—or lack thereof—to date.
DLR Group employs more than 1,000 professionals in 20-plus offices worldwide, but CEO and managing principal Griff Davenport, AIA, has not seen a significant impact on his firm yet. “It’s a very politically charged topic,” he says. “It has not been a topic of concern in conversations. Most of our work is domestic and our international work is not in countries affected by the ban.” But, he adds, “it’s very early in the administration.”
Though the 40-person, New Orleans–based firm Eskew+Dumez+Ripple has become increasingly diverse, with staff hires from Venezuela, Puerto Rico, and India, partner Mark Ripple, AIA, tells ARCHITECT, “We simply have not directly felt the impact of these policies on our practice at this time.”
Chicago firm Latent Design has employed second-generation citizens of Syrian, Iranian, and Pakistani descent, as well as one with protection under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a President Obama–era immigration policy. Trump has indicated he will honor the protections offered by DACA—for now—as he aggressively prosecutes undocumented immigrants, who may be the parents or relatives of these young residents. Latent Design founder and principal Katherine Darnstadt, AIA, notes that many of her current and former employees are worried, but they’re somewhat protected as they live in Chicago or other urban centers that have declared themselves as sanctuary cities. “With DACA, there’s no insulation,” she says, because these individuals are registered with the federal government.
Darnstadt says her solidarity with those potentially affected by the Trump administration’s policies stems from empathy. “I will always be part of a minority,” she says. “I will always be a woman-of-color architect.”
Nader Tehrani is a naturalized American citizen of Iranian descent, born in England and raised in a number of countries, including Switzerland, Iran, Pakistan, and South Africa. He has spent most of the last 35 years in the United States, where he bridges practice and academia as principal of Boston-based, 25-person firm NADAAA, the former head of MIT's Department of Architecture, and dean of the Cooper Union Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture.
In response to those who advocate complete resistance to the Trump administration, Tehrani views building a borderwall and pursuing federal work as two different propositions. “Nothing is new,” he says. “You have to choose whether to participate in the building of these institutions. Prisons, military bases, FBI centers, CIA [facilities] are among these, but schools and hospitals are also institutions. It’s important to know what project to take or not take.”
During President George W. Bush’s administration, NADAAA designed a border station at the U.S.–Canada border (which ultimately was not built). “It was about the communities on both sides of the border,” Tehrani says. “It was more than just about who was president at the time.”
Regarding the effect of the immigration ban on students, Tehrani says, “Schools are by definition dynamic environments. This affects my pool of applicants.” In the past decade, he has observed an influx of Iranian students to American and Canadian schools. “There are individuals of those countries who will be impacted,” he says. “They want to be able to travel, but their visas will end—they could be summarily deported. It’s the arbitrary nature of these actions that’s most concerning.”
About 22 percent of the undergraduate population and about 34 percent of graduate students at the University of California, Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design (CED) are international students. Dean Jennifer Wolch notes that international students, as well as students of color, have been upset and frightened by recent developments. The university administration, she says, has communicated that “UC Berkeley [is committed] to protecting their rights and welcoming them into the community, regardless of where they come from.”
The entire University of California system has declared itself a sanctuary university and has vowed to protect DACA students as well. Though the CED has had initiatives within the countries named in the immigration ban, that isn’t the case today, Wolch says. Still, she is also concerned about the effect on international studies and faculty research travel.
The University of Kansas has students from some of the seven countries listed by the original ban. In late January, university chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little advised all affected students to “avoid international travel until there is some clarification of the situation.” School of Architecture, Design, and Planning dean Mahesh Daas cites the State of Kansas’ founding as a free state in the Civil War era for its values. “Our school’s vision is to become the pioneering force for global impact through design,” he says. “We see ourselves as a school committed to facilitating relationships and exchanging ideas across the world through design.”
The architecture community at Rice University in Houston is small enough that the administration knows each of its students well. The school has at least one student from a country covered under the travel ban, but there haven’t been any issues to date. Nor have Rice students had trouble with course-related travel—for the most part.
Up to 60 percent of Rice’s students travel as part of their coursework, typically over spring break. However, these trips were moved to mid-February this year in response to the uncertainties concerning travel under the Trump administration. A couple students did not participate because they were afraid their travel histories might result in issues during re-entry at U.S. Customs and Border Protection. As such, the travel restrictions did hinder their education as part of an academic community, says Rice School of Architecture dean Sarah Whiting: “They don’t get to go on travel that’s part of the coursework.”
Whiting notes that the country as a whole has been globalizing our university system since the late 1960s, when we began to more clearly understand our world as a single, interconnected entity. The developing Trump policies “challenge what we’ve been able to do," she says. "Our ability to create global citizens is in peril.”
Whiting pauses. “We are doing our utmost not to limit the possibilities for our students,” she says. “There’s a fine line between cautious and alarmist.”