6 September 2011
by Evonne Mackenzie
A few weeks back the British Council and the Future Cities Project organised The Principled Architect, a debate on the subject of ethics in architecture. The event was prompted by various discussions in recent months surrounding the choices by architects to refuse or accept work in particular countries.
In his presentation Robert Adam began by reflecting on universal standards of ethics such as the work of The Enlightenment and the United Nations Declaration of Humans Rights. He encouraged architects to avoid naïve attitudes and weak excuses when making and justifying their choices on whom to design for and where, while still acknowledging the fundamental need for architects to continue to design and build.
Kevin Lloyd, director at McAslan and Partners drew upon the practice’s own projects such as Dohaland, the IronMarket in Haiti and prototype schools in Malawi as cases where their ethical concerns within the practice have centred upon designing sensitively and appropriately within less familiar places.
Ines Weizman interrogated the point of refusal. Ines suggested that a simple refusal benefits no-one as neither the architect nor the client are changed by the decision. However, if an architect uses this as an opportunity to engage and challenge the client then this offers opportunity to influence and affect change.
Karl Sharro interrogated what we mean by ethics – asserting that the term itself has devalued from a broad collective understanding of important issues to self-preoccupation with our small, individual and insignificant actions. Karl also highlighted how our discussions of the ethics and boycotts conveniently always centre upon non-western nations, yet that the idea of ethics is not a fixed code, but rather is something which shifts with time and development.
Throughout the evening the discussion touched on a variety of issues from whether statement architecture for international clients means the architect is complicit in the political actions of a country, or indeed whether these buildings offers an implicit endorsement of the actions of a regime. The group questioned whether these ongoing discussions were genuinely about a collective moral framework or indeed whether the background to recent statements instead revealed personal gain through moralising on the individual actions of others. Finally, one of the key questions raised on the night was whether an architect refusing a project within a country can genuinely expect to affect a client, government or country.
Follow these links for a chance to see all the individual talks by speakers and the spirited q&a.