Last week AN published news about a circulating open letter addressed to Chicago-based architecture firm Krueck Sexton Partners (KSP) that calls on the office to “immediately withdraw from the Israeli planning process and stop their participation in and endorsement of Israel’s illegal seizures of Palestinian land in Jerusalem.”
This week KSP has responded to this letter via a statement shared with AN. The office commented that the letter and AN’s coverage were “inaccurately reported” and stated that it “has not been selected to design a new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.” Both the letter and AN’s prior article described KSP’s role as one of participation and planning, not design.
KSP clarified that it is “working to support overall planning and decision-making for the U.S. diplomatic presence that includes opportunities for an expanded office and programmatic operations. This planning effort includes multiple sites.”
KSP confirmed that these multiple sites include the Allenby Barracks site.
The open letter was written by “architecture practitioners, academics, and writers concerned about the ethical implications” of this activity, the authors told AN. They declined to provide the number of contributors or their identities.
“Once architects agree to participate in the design and implementation of this plan on illegally confiscated land, they become not only complicit but active participants in the systematic dispossession of Palestinians in Jerusalem,” the writers stated.
They continue: “There is an assumption that only those involved in direct policy-making can weigh in on the situation in Palestine-Israel, but those who determine policy rely on support from architects, planners, and others to operationalize policy. By questioning why we target architects, we are supposing that architects are engaged in a neutral or apolitical endeavor which is, of course, untrue.”
Although the U.S. has leased the contested site since 1989, it landed in the news in December 2016, when the federal government decided to relocate the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. It was quickly known that the property would be one of the considered locations.
The Biden administration appears committed to continuing with this effort begun by former president Trump. A December 2022 article in The Intercept provided an update on the process and, through information provided by the State Department, established that a number of sites were still being considered. It also noted that KSP was collaborating with an Israeli firm. KSP declined to comment on that coverage.
The Intercept’s article, by Alice Speri, also shared that a detailed 2021 proposal submitted by the U.S. State Department was made public in November 2022 by Israeli planning authorities. That document contained early schematics of the planned embassy’s “multi-building compound” on the Allenby Barracks site.
KSP stated that “informed architectural practice requires research, diligence, and exploration, precisely the work the U.S. Department of State has requested of KSP.” Contractual agreements between KSP and the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations were updated as recently as December 1, 2022, with a description of “Additional Project Development Services for Jerusalem NEC Phase 3,” according to public government records. KSP has a ten-year engagement with the State Department and has teamed up with the agency on over 20 projects worldwide.
KSP has “engaged in public work since [its] founding over 32 years ago,” the company’s response established. “Public work is inherently complicated and KSP respects the opinions and perspectives of our community of professional peers and colleagues. We, above all, welcome and encourage public dialogue and debate about our work—especially related to projects that represent this country and, in particular, the planning efforts underway for the U.S. diplomatic presence in Jerusalem.” KSP is aware of the situation’s contentious predicament: “We acknowledge the challenging nature of our assignment but refute references to missteps in our ethical approach to work.”
The open-letter writers state that “there is no ethical way to simultaneously know that land is illegally and discriminatorily appropriated and work to entrench that appropriation through architectural design and construction. The ethical approach is to pull out of the project and refuse to participate in the ongoing systematic dispossession of Palestinians in Jerusalem.”
The claim that the site in question is confiscated land is extensively documented. It was the subject of a recent guest essay in The New York Times by Rashid Khalidi, an heir to one of the families who owned the land and leased it to Great Britain. He explained that “Adelah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, recently unearthed the rental contracts from Israeli state archives, which document how Britain signed lease agreements to rent this site from [his] family and others through 1948.” Israel seized this land nearly 75 years ago. The State Department has known for more than 20 years about claims to return it to its owners.
Khalidi further contends that “building a U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, on this site or any other, constitutes a legal and moral offense,” as it would “solidify Israel’s exclusivist claims to the city.”
The open-letter writers shared that their “hope—and the demand of the Palestinian property owners—is that the U.S. State Department does not proceed with the plan. But if it does, KSP should not be a part of it. We believe that KSP can and should take an ethical stance by refraining from participating in this plan, not least since it presents itself as a firm aware of the ethical imperatives in architecture, ostensibly championing ‘social innovation, equity, and dignity for all.’”
Currently, 284 people have signed the open letter. This week its message was shared on Instagram by The Funambulist, “a platform that engages with the politics of space and bodies.”
KSP’s full response is included below:
Response to The Architect’s Newspaper
Published Open Letter
March 14, 2023
KSP Statement in response to March 1, 2023 Open Letter to Architects Krueck Sexton Partners Re: U.S. Embassy plan in Jerusalem, and the March 10, 2023 article by The Architect’s Newspaper.
Krueck Sexton Partners has been engaged in public work since our founding over 32 years ago. Public work is inherently complicated and KSP respects the opinions and perspectives of our community of professional peers and colleagues. We, above all, welcome and encourage public dialogue and debate about our work – especially related to projects that represent this country and, in particular, the planning efforts underway for the U.S. diplomatic presence in Jerusalem.
That said, it is also important to clarify the facts and details surrounding the planning efforts that are inaccurately reported in both the Open Letter and The Architect’s Newspaper article.
First and foremost, KSP has not been selected to design a new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. As part of our 10-year engagement with the U.S. Department of State, KSP is working to support overall planning and decision-making for the U.S. diplomatic presence that includes opportunities for an expanded office and programmatic operations. This planning effort includes multiple sites.
Further, the reference to being complicit discounts that KSP is assisting the U.S. government with efforts to gather critical information in order to make a decision about the U.S. presence. KSP is not designing a new U.S. Embassy. Informed architectural practice requires research, diligence, and exploration, precisely the work the U.S. Department of State has requested of KSP. There has been no breach in our steadfast commitment to providing ethical and responsible services to our clients and owners. We acknowledge the challenging nature of our assignment but refute references to missteps in our ethical approach to work.
Krueck Sexton Partners has proudly teamed with the U.S. Department of State on more than twenty projects around the world. Our work has been focused on keeping U.S. diplomats safe and elevating their core mission of diplomacy through architecture. We have worked in other complicated areas of the world and our commitment to excellence in U.S. diplomatic facilities represents our belief that our highest duty as architects is to create spaces for meaningful dialogue and exchange that lead to inclusive, equitable, and long-lasting solutions for all.
We support the U.S. Department of State’s mission and believe in their due process. We will continue to support them as they work to find solutions to a historic challenge.
Krueck Sexton Partners