ethical oath: architecture (part 3 of 3)

Architects are typically licensed professionals, which means that they subscribe to a code of ethics as part of the licensing process. (I examined and wrote about a range of codes of ethics of design associations for my book, The Designer’s Atlas of Sustainability). Although a recent article in Dwell magazine about the merits of architectural licensing suggests that licensing requires that architects take an oath, I couldn’t find any sign of such an oath in my searches (please let me know if you have information about it). However Edward Lifson has adapted the hippocratic oath, with some humour, for architects here

In the US licensing varies by state, but one can get a sense of the code of ethics from the AIA’s (American Institute of Architects) code of ethics. Rena Klein has a useful article outlining recent amendments to the code. The code, which had five broad principles of conduct (known as “cannons”) was amended in 2007 when a new cannon, “obligations to the environment” was added. The other cannons deal largely with business conduct and legal compliance, however another amendment encourages architects to offer pro bono work.

AIA members can be suspended for not upholding many of the business and legal aspects of the code, but most of the social and environmental components are purely aspirational. New contract requirements that form part of the code, however, do require architects to discuss sustainable design options with clients in the schematic design phase. “These contract sections are legally binding to architects who sign the 2007 B101 Agreement. This means that failure to discuss “environmentally responsible design approaches” and “consider environmentally responsible design alternatives” could be deemed a breach of contract by the architect.”

city skyline
Should a hippocratic oath for architecture focus on the health of the city?

Another take on the architect’s hippocratic suggest it is the health of the city that should be addressed, rather than the health of individuals, as suggested by this excerpt on curative building:

Curative building: in favour of an architecture which soothes and alleviates

Art heightens perception and represents the world. Perhaps it is because of this that many give architecture the artistic mission of delving into the cracks and probing the wounds, representing the fragmentation of society and territory through fractured forms. Perhaps architecture is a medicinal art, and as such, aims to heal rather than describe suffering; or a useful art which is therefore more involved in repairing the world than evoking it.

If this activity were bound by a Hippocratic oath, surely the health of the city, the welfare of its inhabitants and the technical and economic consistency of its factories would be part of it. It happens only too frequently that buildings are an affront to the urban environment or landscape, to the comfort and convenience of the users or to constructive logic and economy. It is reasonable to assume that architecture would blend in more successfully with its service dimension if the shamans were replaced by doctors.

This curative building is exempt from heroic profiles; it assuages the conscience by alleviating suffering; it prefers efficiency to excellence and carefully avoids adventure and risk. An architecture like this will hardly be able to explore the chasms of art; but what it loses in emotion it will make up for in responsibility. Few look to the surgeon for inspiration, yet nevertheless everyone expects him to be skilled and competent. Perhaps the architect should also be judged more for his skill than for his genius; neither the fabric of the city nor the flow of life will be weakened by this.”

[Do you know the source of this passage? If so, please let me know]

Finally, practitioner Sergio Palleroni suggests that a hippocratic oath has “shock value” to some of his architecture students, “Our studio labs have a lot of medical students, because their idea of health is so fundamental to them. The Hippocratic oath is a much more hardcore set of values about how to serve communities. It’s always good to present architecture students with that.” But he also notes that “having students collaborate across disciplines now will lead to a society where disciplines will not be divided along these boundaries but instead will join forces to solve problems.” This reinforces the idea from the previous post that designers probably need a different kind of ethical oath, and that by bringing practices and their oaths together we find deeper, longer lasting solutions.

Don’t forget the survey — its running until the end of November and I’ll announce the prize drawing winner in early December, along with the results.

2 Responses to ethical oath: architecture (part 3 of 3)

  1. Howard Patrick (Pat) Barry, AIA NCARB says:

    Reminder – in April 2008, in response to one of your earlier explorations/investigations of Manifestos, I shared with you An Architect’s Affirmation that takes the form of a promise, in the tradition of the Hippocratic Oath, to do the right thing even when it is contrary to our perceived self-interest.

    Architect’s Affirmation

    o I will maintain and advance my knowledge of the art and science of Architecture in the service of utility, commodity and delight;

    o I will respect the body of architectural accomplishment and contribute to its growth through conscientious commitment to the highest standards of training, education, research and practice;

    o I will respect and conserve our natural and cultural heritage, thoughtfully considering the social and environmental impact of my activities;

    o I will be vigilant and uncompromising in my support of human rights, exercising unprejudiced and unbiased judgment in the execution of my professional services, both alone and with many;

    o I will embrace the spirit and the letter of the law governing my professional affairs, and will do my best to incite a like reverence and respect in those who are prone to annul them or set them at naught;

    o I will strive increasingly to quicken the public’s sense of the civic duty that is Architecture;

    o I will respect the rights and acknowledge the professional aspirations and contributions of my brother and sister Architects;

    o Thus, in all these ways will I transmit this Practice of Architecture, not less, but greater and more than it was transmitted to me.
    by Howard Patrick Barry, AIA
    Barry Associates Architects

    Presented at
    Land Culture Practice – ACSA Southwest Regional Conference
    2 Nov 2002
    The University of Texas – San Antonio

    Proceedings/transcript of the above remarks were published in 2004 the School of Architecture, UTSA

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