Discussing sustainability involves addressing social, economic, and environmental issues. Despite being a topic discussed globally for decades, it still has many aspects to consider. Since it is an issue that involves the entire planet, all professions have specific commitments according to their professional practices. The case of architects is particular because construction is a sector that permeates all levels of society, as all beings inhabit the planet. To inhabit is the verb that summarises architecture. At the same time, the implications vary infinitely depending on the context, culture, climate, religion, purchasing power, politics, and other factors. Therefore, the role of the architect is to comprehend all aspects that directly or indirectly affect society to solve problems from their root. But what does ethics have to do with this discussion? To answer this question, one must consider the challenges that architects face and the basic competencies they must develop to confront them. From their education, their abilities must be geared towards resolving conflicts through critical and reflective thinking so that they can approach each project from its core problem, rather than from the personal interests of any individual.

Sustainability The Ethical Principle of Architecture-Sheet1
Maternity Waiting Village in Kasungu, Kasungu District, Malawi_© 2024 MASS Design Group

The Architect’s Dilemmas

Knowledge represents a great responsibility for the professional; their duty is to harness and exploit all potential to use it correctly for the benefit of society. However, what aspects must be considered to properly fulfil their commitments in professional practice? According to Fisher (2010), the architect faces various dilemmas and obligations, including those that are general, and related to the public sector, clients, colleagues, and the environment. The general dilemmas an architect must consider include living conditions, unrewarded work, community service, and salary inequality, to name a few. Nonetheless, depending on societal spheres, these challenges become more critical, such as in the public sector, where there are conflicts of interest in public relations among governments, the press, cultural differences, and corruption. The latter, without going into detail, is a significant economic drain on resources that many nations suffer from.

Although the previous dilemmas stem from the lack of development of skills and competencies related to social principles and values, the lack of commitment from architects to stay updated on new issues that benefit the planet can also be considered an ethical lapse in architecture. Especially when significant figures are raising their voices for causes that have always been neglected by society. A very noble perspective is understanding that architecture should serve the most vulnerable and not just the privileged. Shigeru Ban’s reflection on the purpose of architecture invites us to question how we can contribute to the improvement of people’s dignity during times of crisis. Similarly, Anna Heringer questions who receives the direct benefits of architecture and how, through the profession, different outcomes can be achieved that truly positively impact the quality of life of people.

Sustainability The Ethical Principle of Architecture-Sheet2
Community participation in Ilima Primary School in Ilima, Tshuapa Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo_© 2024 MASS Design Group

In this context, the core purpose of architecture is not only based on caring for the planet but also on serving humanity and the surrounding habitat. Like Ban and Heringer, architect Michael Murphy shares the concern about the transformative power of architecture within a community. Inspired by personal experiences with his father, Murphy found a crucial reason in architecture to recognize the impact of physical and emotional healing. By designing spaces that utilise all the resources offered by the planet, such as earth, air, and sun, it is possible to create dignified spaces that enhance people’s lives in their daily struggles. In short, a simple architecture that provides participatory spaces for the community and prioritises the issues and natural and material resources of the area. In this way, architecture can significantly transform society and restore hope to humanity.

Sustainability in Architecture

The importance of sustainability in architecture is widely discussed, but little action is taken to address the planet’s needs in the face of climate change. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development aims for cities and settlements to be inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable habitats. To achieve this, commitment must be universal. However, there is still resistance to truly transforming the landscape within the architecture and construction sector. Sustainability is the fundamental principle that architects must consider in their professional practice, taking into account all the challenges of the project: climate, environment, community, resources, and culture, among others.

Sustainability The Ethical Principle of Architecture-Sheet3
Slums without access to basic services in Villa El Salvador, in Lima, Peru. Photo by Melissa Farlow_© UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, Flickr.

In conclusion, architecture is a social necessity that shelters, protects, conditions, limits, liberates, heals, inspires, and for better or worse, ultimately impacts the quality of life of individuals. This underscores the importance of ethics in architecture, as it might seem like a matter of common sense. However, the commitment is not reflected in the well-being of the planet, in overcrowding and informal settlements due to the lack of housing in developing countries, or in monolithic and replicated urban masses without regard for the environment. As long as replicated and decontextualized architecture continues to exist, the results will only exacerbate the climate crisis, inequality, and poverty worldwide. Therefore, it is crucial for architects, as professionals, to reflect on the impact of their decisions at every phase of a project: from planning and design to construction, use, and demolition of the building.


United Nations. (2023). Sustainable development goals report 2023: Special edition. New York: United Nations Publications.

Shigeru Ban Architects (2013). Shigeru Ban Architects Official Website. TEDxTokyo. [online]. Available at:  https://shigerubanarchitects.com/   [Accessed 08 May 2024].

TED TALK (2016). Architecture that’s built to heal [online]. Available at:  https://www.ted.com/talks/michael_murphy_architecture_that_s_built_to_heal?referrer=playlist-the_emotional_impact_of_archit&autoplay=true [Accessed 14 May 2024]. 

TED TALK (2017). The warmth and wisdom of mud buildings: Anna Heringer [online]. Available at:  https://www.ted.com/talks/anna_heringer_the_warmth_and_wisdom_of_mud_buildings?language=en&subtitle=en [Accessed 25 March 2024]. 

Fisher, T. (2010). Ethics for architects: 50 dilemmas of professional practice. Chronicle Books.

Bermeo Álvarez, S. and Echeverría Bucheli, R. (2022). La cátedra integradora. Un enfoque transdisciplinar para la enseñanza de arquitectura. Caso de Estudio FAU-UCE. Estoa. Revista de la Facultad de Arquitectura y Urbanismo de la Universidad de Cuenca, 11 (21), 81-89. https://doi.org/10.18537/est.v011. n021.a07


Andrea is an architect and researcher passionate about sustainability in architecture, social transformations, and heat transfer in architectural envelopes for warm climates. Additionally, she loves traveling to explore architectural landmarks around the world and, in this way, travel through time.