Perhaps before beginning to debate on what ethical conclusions an interior architect should follow, it would make sense to ask, as writer and broadcaster Jonathan Meades at the Royal Academy asked, “Why should architecture be different from other professions or creative pursuits that are unconcerned with questions of ethics?”. 

This, of course, can be extended in fair rights to the interior architect too. Meades continues by arguing that if other creative professionals are not concerned with the question of ethics, what rights do architects have for the same? 

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Ethical Architecture_©CESS

New York Times columnist Janice Turner explicitly argues on the contrary. “Architects have a higher moral duty than other artists since they have the greatest power to shape society,” she writes. Perhaps that’s why architects are given licenses for their practice. They affect and more than often even shape the life of the people that inhabit their spaces. And so in that regard, it would make sense to then gather that architects and interior designers alike can be questioned on the subject of ethics.

The Priority Of Responsibility

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Should an architect feel responsible for the larger context?_©Joseph Eid.

The International Interior Design Association has mapped down guidelines that professionals are expected to follow when practicing. Separated by the responsibility towards different sections (like the client, the public, and so on), one could easily ask, what and where the priority of responsibility would lie. Should importance be given more to the client than to the public or should one’s devotion to the field precede overall? When influence can be wielded, does one follow the codes of conduct that empathize with the larger context and the crowd or should one turn around to face only what he/she builds?

The emergence of globalization and customization, in the post-Ford era, has made ethical economics a necessity while labor rights and humane movements have accorded a sense of equality for the worker. But does the architect, the one who conceptualizes the form and draws the lines that take shape in time, manage what is around him, or does he/she coordinate with people whom he takes under his wings. 

Is the architect a father figure, or has he/she concluded to operate on the same level as the people around him? Norman Foster, Tadao Ando, and Zaha Hadid would probably beg to differ from the latter. 

Ethics and Economic Values

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Architects have been affected by the economic value of globalization_© Denis Nevozhai

Globalization has made architects assign value to their name, and corporate holdings splash out to get the best ones to design for them. Moreover, the building and construction industry is much less concerned about the ills of ethical practices and does find a scapegoat in the form of an ‘architect’ and thus the ‘architect’ must come to the realization that his/her role is changing every day, and from one project to another. He/she must design, resolve, manage, coordinate and morally influence. 

The responsibility of the architect has rapidly changed over time, and so has ethical behavior. What an architect morally brings to the table is what decides whether the project in itself was ethically conceived and carried out, or not. 

The Confines of Ethical Architecture

Carl Sapers (Hon. IAI) dots four tension points in an architect’s life. An architect’s monetary needs, the conflicting requirements of the client, the interest of serving the public, and the devotion to the art of architecture. These points are fairly presumed as the framework of ethical architecture and an architect must reason and practice within the confines of the framework. Yet, the framework also invites the architects to look beyond the confines and let the building speak for itself.

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An architect can use the ethical framework to look beyond its confines_©www.uxdesign.cc

The tension points are very well capable of confining the art of architecture and an architect’s devotion to the field. Should a client’s requirement clash with issues of civil law or the clients themselves be the local focus in abuse of power? The architect is presented with an ethical dish wherein he must choose the least inedible serving. Should the local context be negatively tampered upon and an architect’s values towards the public can be questioned?

For an architect, in order to not dissolve the art in architecture, it would be good to look at the work of the architect and reface on whether or not these ethical tensions presented have been understood. The sphere of ethics then shifts partially from the architect and rests on the building.

Ethical Architecture and the Architect

I believe architects can and should influence the sphere in which they are assigned to work. Depending on whether one wants to manage or coordinate, the architect should devote himself to the practice of ethical architecture. Of course, these questions change from place to place and from project to project, and morality is subjective, but overall architects and interior designers wield a lot of influence in how they shape the lives of people, places, and time itself. In a matter so grave, one should not fall into characters that are driven by the engine of pure globalization, but step aside to make way for the practice of ethically driven architecture. 

Perhaps in that sense then, the ‘architect’ might need to question his/her set of deliverables and accept that his/her ideas are instruments of change.

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Architects end up influencing and shaping cities and lives, in time_©Sophia Ayame.

References:

Cess (2016). Ethical Architecture. [online]. Available at: https://creativemornings.com/themes/ethics?tab=videos [Accessed 30 April 2021].

  1. Joseph (2016). Should an architect feel responsible for the larger context? [online]. Available at: https://www.yahoo.com/news/bombs-kill-22-army-checkpoint-syrias-homs-state-085810828.html?ref=gs {Accessed 30 April 2021].
  2. Denis (2018). Architects have been affected by the economic value of globalization. [online]. Available at: https://medium.com/@oswin_88137/quantifying-the-flix-buzz-c8c0519a9291 [Accessed 30 April 2021].

Unknown (2019). An architect can use the ethical framework to look beyond its confines. [online]. Available at: https://uxdesign.cc/ethical-design-and-accessibility-a287c930a8ab [Accessed 30 April 2021].

  1. Sofia (2021). Architects end up influencing and shaping cities and lives, in time. [online]. Available at: https://unsplash.com/photos/WZCM-ZrKcxA [Accessed 30 April 2021].
Adriel Khan
Author

Adriel is a spatial designer who believes writing about design is just as important as the design itself. He believes that architecture and design are instruments of human expression which ought to be unfolded to enable a deeper connection with our surroundings.

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