Reports are circulating within the architectural community that Parsons Brinckerhoff, the lead consulting firm for the Honolulu rail transit project, is pressuring architects who have worked on the project to publicly criticize the position of the local American Institute of Architects favoring a light rail system capable of operating at ground level.
At a recent meeting with architects who have gotten contracts to work on preliminary plans, a Parsons VP and Hawaii manager allegedly implied that future work on the project might be linked to architects’ public and political support. According to one description:
Those present were reminded that future work on the project (when it goes into preliminary and then final engineering) would be through competitive selection, i.e, “continuation of your current position is not guaranteed.” After this was said, the team architects were “encouraged” to write letters, op-ed pieces, etc., criticizing AIA Honolulu’s position. And to “help them” do so, PB’s public relations staff would even write the letters and pieces for them.
An email follow-up from Parsons is also making the rounds.
To our architect team members,
Some of you who attended my meeting recently expressed your concern with regard to how AIA has been presenting its position to the public in an unbalanced, seemingly biased way. Since that meeting, some of you have agreed to send letters to various parties, including the City Council. I note that the local AIA calendar has a meeting of its Transit TF on the calendar for this Thursday PM. I’m certain that this is an open meeting. I request that you consider attending this meeting to express your own views about the Honolulu Transit project and how, perhaps, the public stance of the local AIA may not be fairly representative of its entire membership. Thanks for your support of our project. Pls let me know if there is anything our transit team could do to help you. Mahalo,
But some of those architects working on the rail project strongly support the AIA stance in favor of a true light rail system able to operate at street level as well as on raised guideways. The city’s favored system requires an all-elevated track, even when aesthetic, environmental, and financial factors call for a different approach.
So is it ethical for Parsons to be pressing architects working as consultants on the project to take public positions in support of the city’s past decisions, even if that runs counter to their best professional judgement?
It perhaps isn’t a surprise that architects associated with the AIA see this as exerting improper and undue pressure. That doesn’t seem unreasonable when the company controlling many millions of dollars in future design contracts “requests” that you take certain action. That could certainly be construed as undue pressure, in my view.
Your tax dollars at work.