“Good people don’t need laws to tell them to act responsibly, and bad people will find a way around the laws,” – Plato.

On the first day of the first semester in my first year, an old teacher in our architecture department was famous for his orientation speeches to the new students. He always used the same speech every year to tell us how important being an architect was. According to him, out of every profession that requires a license to work (lawyer, doctor, etc.), architecture was the most important because architects were responsible for other people’s lives and livelihoods. ‘If there weren’t architects, doctors wouldn’t have a theatre to perform their surgeries in, lawyers wouldn’t have courts to fight their cases in, kids wouldn’t have spaces to learn in, and patients wouldn’t have spaces to recover in, and so on.’

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When I look back, that speech was his way of telling us about the responsibilities of being a practising architect and the impact our actions and decisions might have on other numerous lives. Not just in terms of using the buildings and designed spaces but instead of what the construction of the building takes from our environment as leverage. This is what makes ethical considerations while designing such a necessity in the field of architecture, more so now than ever, because of the climate conditions of the world.

It might seem so simple to follow an ethical design approach. Just do this ethically, am I right? But it’s much more complicated than that. This is because the term ‘ethical’ has numerous meanings and connotations. Ethically could mean designing with climate change in mind, but it could also mean paying your worker’s fair wages. This is the reason why designers should take an active interest in learning about ethical design and the principles to follow for it.

A Look into Ethical Design

Ethical design means designing great things while ensuring your business’s morals and beliefs are upheld. Everything that you do, from your websites, your content, marketing campaign or your design, everything should conform to the values of your company since everything you do has an impact on the lives of others and at the end of the day, you are responsible for your actions and your words. (Sownie, 2021)

As an architectural designer, ethics play a huge role in our line of work because the work we do not just impacts a few but instead hundreds and thousands of people that interact with our project. Every designer’s beliefs may vary, but some moral beliefs must stay consistent irrespective of what our society and culture have normalized.

Principles of Ethical Design

Most ethical design considerations revolve around human life, rights, effort, and experience and follow the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. It is easy to consider humans when it comes to design, but as architectural designers, we must also constantly think about our ecosystem (animals and plants) while designing. This is because human consumption and lack of ethical architectural design have made numerous animals homeless in their search for the most prominent site for their malls/commercial projects. 

However, humans remain the most significant user group when implementing ethics in our design. The ‘ethical hierarchy of needs’ is a pyramid created by Aral Balkan and Laura Kalbag which illustrates the principles of ethical design and how each layer of the pyramid depends on the preceding layer to ensure that the design remains ethical. (Sownie, 2021)

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Pyramid of ethics in design_© (Sownie, 2021)

Ethics in Architecture

The biggest issue with architecture nowadays is that the word architecture has a negative connotation. This is because when we think of growing cities, climate crisis, deforestation, and other similar words, a specific image of skyscrapers comes into mind. Everything wrong with the world suddenly becomes the responsibility of the architect. 

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This could be because architect uses up a significant amount of natural resources in the world while designing a single building. Climate change and global warming are greatly affected by the carbon emissions that a high-rise building produces, not to mention the lack of green spaces in metropolitan cities like Karachi, Mumbai, New York, Dubai, etc., due to an increase in high-rises which makes green and open spaces less of a priority. 

De-carbonization has been a hot topic for many years, but no noticeable change has been seen in how developed countries design buildings. Currently, architecture is responsible for 33% of global energy consumption and 39% of greenhouse gas emissions, meaning that architects must follow their inner moral compass if we are to stop climate change. (Baldwin, 2021)

Influence of industrialization on the climate_©Pexels

All of these factors are related to an architect as an individual and what they can do to make this world a better place. Ethical moralities do not lie with a regulatory body or an organization but with the individual and how they conduct business with the world. Everything an architect does, from his first day in school to his last day on a project, can create a ripple in the world around them, and understanding the responsibility of being an architect is step one in designing ethical buildings. 


Baldwin, E., 2021. Design Ethics: Rethinking Practice in 2021. [Online] 

Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/974371/design-ethics-rethinking-practice-in-2021

[Accessed 5 August 2023].

Sownie, C., 2021. The principles of ethical design (and how to use them). [Online] 

Available at: https://99designs.com/blog/tips/ethical-design/

[Accessed 5 August 2023].


Manaal Khalid is a soon-to-be architect and dedicated artist with a unique perspective on art and design, influenced by her third-world upbringing. She enjoys painting, drawing, and reading, using these passions to inspire her architectural work. You can always expect fresh, culturally diverse, and socially conscious ideas in Manaal’s work.