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Monday, July 22, 2019

Thomas Fisher on The Ethics of Architecture and Other Contradictions

Michael Crosbie
Originally posted June 21, 2019

Here is an excerpt from the interview between Michael Crosbie and Thomas Fisher:

MJC: Most architects don’t give serious consideration to ethics in their design work. Why not?

TF: The revision of AIA’s Code of Ethics requiring members to discuss the environmental impacts of a project with the client really gets at that. In the past, architects have been wary to have such discussions because it questions the power of the client to do whatever they want because they have the means to do so. Architects have been designing for people with power and money for a very long time. It’s easier to talk about aesthetics, function, or the pragmatics of design because it doesn’t question a client’s power.

MJC: “The pursuit of happiness” is a very strong idea in American culture. How do architects balance serving clients—in their “pursuit of happiness” through architecture—with the greater good of the community?

TF: In ethics, “the pursuit of happiness” is often misunderstood. Utilitarian ethics states that you strive to make the greatest number of people happy; the 18th-century philosopher Jeremy Bentham promoted “the greatest good for the greatest number.” But ethics is also about understanding how others view the world, and how our actions affect the lives and welfare of others. The role of professionals is to look after the greater good. Licensure is a social contract in which, in exchange for a monopoly in providing professional services, the professional is responsible for the larger picture. Designing to satisfy someone’s hedonistic “pursuit of happiness” without regard to that bigger picture is unethical behavior for an architect. It violates the social contract behind licensure. I think an architect should lose his or her license for an action like that. Such an action might not be illegal, but it’s unethical. Ethics is really about our day-to-day interactions with people in the realm of space, public and private.

The interview is here.