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Boston Society of Architects

Ethics Feature

Coded langage

Designers react to one segment of Canon 1 of the AIA Code of Ethics

Canon 1


Members should maintain and advance their knowledge of the art and science of architecture, respect the body of architectural accomplishment, contribute to its growth, thoughtfully consider the social and environmental impact of their professional activities, and exercise learned and uncompromised professional judgment.

E.S. 1.1

Knowledge and Skill: Members should strive to improve their professional knowledge and skill.

It is our responsibility to serve the public interest. Because this cannot be done without understanding the needs of urban dwellers of all walks of life, we should foster community engagement and collaboration as a critical part of a designer’s education and skill set. Buildings are not stand-alone pieces of art, but living, breathing pieces of our urban centers. Learning to craft shared visions, build consensus, and collect and incorporate feedback is critical to the success of most projects. It is not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing. With the benefit of community stewardship and creativity, buildings and public spaces can reflect, engage, and inspire those they serve through education and culture.

Julia McElhinney is an urban design consultant at CBT Architects.

RULE 1.101

In practicing architecture, Members shall demonstrate a consistent pattern of reasonable care and competence, and shall apply the technical knowledge and skill which is ordinarily applied by architects of good standing practicing in the same locality.

E.S. 1.2

Standards of Excellence: Members should continually seek to raise the standards of aesthetic excellence, architectural education, research, training, and practice.

E.S. 1.3

Natural and Cultural Heritage: Members should respect and help conserve their natural and cultural heritage while striving to improve the environment and the quality of life within it.

Context is so critical to architecture. Clients often view context through the lens of what physically surrounds a site. It’s our responsibility to show them how deep context goes, especially as it relates to the cultural and social dynamics that make a community distinct, and the environmental implications associated with architecture. The profession needs to get to a point where designing for context isn’t viewed as an option or add-on. It needs to be the only way we design.

Lynne Deninger AIA is a principal at CannonDesign.

E.S. 1.4

Human Rights: Members should uphold human rights in all their professional endeavors.

RULE 1.401

Members shall not discriminate in their professional activities on the basis of race, religion, gender, national origin, age, disability, or sexual orientation.

Winston Churchill famously said, “We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us.” In no place is this more critical and relevant than in the area of equity, diversity, and inclusion. The code requires members not to discriminate. However, architects must be more than passive nonoffenders. They must be active promoters of diversity within their firms and project teams. A diverse team brings a wide range of perspectives, which are in turn reflected in the ultimate design. A design born from a single perspective will serve to reinforce that perspective in society. Likewise, a design born of diverse perspectives will foster a community that values that diversity.

Sam Batchelor AIA is a partner at designLAB architects.

This rule references the applicable federal civil rights laws barring discrimination. What the Code fails to do is to contextualize this overarching statement to actionable steps to ensure an equitable workplace. Implicit biases are often overlooked in the workplace. When we work in an environment, we bring with us many preconceived ideas about ethnic groups other than our own. So the most important thing is to discuss the following: How do we create an office culture where we can first just acknowledge the powers at play? Who makes decisions in the office? Which groups are — and never are — at the table? How do we first assess the situation to create a more inclusive environment?

Hansy Better Barraza AIA is a principal at Studio Luz Architects.

Architecture is a profession that influences and fosters social interaction, response, and behavior. The physical artifact that we produce and the accompanying social engagement that architecture generates provide a direct link between professional practice and interpersonal activities. An example to recognize that connection and to strengthen the Code of Ethics would be to edit E.S. 1.4 with “... all their professional and personal endeavors,” and its associated Rule with “... in their professional and personal activities.” Uncivilized behavior of any kind is not tolerated outside the workplace, including: racial and sexual harassment; verbal, physical, and online intimidation; and violence of any kind. It seems appropriate to more strongly link that intolerance to professional conduct.

Lawrence A. Chan FAIA is the cofounder and former president of Chan Krieger & Associates.

E.S. 1.5

Design for Human Dignity and the Health, Safety, and Welfare of the Public: Members should employ their professional knowledge and skill to design buildings and spaces that will enhance and facilitate human dignity and the health, safety, and welfare of the individual and the public.

E.S. 1.6

Allied Arts and Industries: Members should promote allied arts and contribute to the knowledge and capability of the building industries as a whole.