From Daily Commercial News:

The practice of architecture is, as we all know, regulated by provincial legislation designed to protect the public interest. This legislation is silent, however, on something that one would also expect to be inherent to the architect’s métier; that is, the aspiration that one’s actions leave the world a better place in a more general sense.

Building should be, after all, an inherently positive and optimistic act, and I’m sure we all generally feel, with some justification, that our work has improved our communities in some way.

The dysfunctional hospital ward reconfigured to suit modern medical practice, the crumbling warehouse given new life as an office building, the energy-saving green building — all of these are the kind of projects which have a tangible public benefit that goes beyond mere compliance with life safety standards.


Allan Teramura

Similarly, buildings which are a beautifully rendered expression of an architectural idea become artefacts of our time, and part of our cultural legacy and collective identity.

However, I believe architectural practice as a whole merits critical examination using a higher standard and broader criterion.

For example, is it morally justifiable today to participate in the construction of buildings which contribute to urban sprawl, or diminish the quality of life of their neighbours?

Is the architect culpable if he or she participates in the destruction of an ecologically important wetland, for example, simply because the market demands it and bad municipal planning permits it?

Is it justifiable to participate the creation of structures with inferior materials, knowing they will be sent to the landfill in thirty years?

Is it acceptable to create buildings which overwhelm the scale of existing neighbourhoods, denying others access to natural light?

Most of us have worked on projects of this nature at some point, although not one of us had this sort of work in mind when we embarked on our careers.


Typically this work is neither professionally nor financially rewarding for architects, and serves only to fill gaps or keep a client happy.

We tolerate it, do our best, and ensure the work upholds the standards of our profession such as they are. So I would like to pose the question: is this standard too low?

I would argue that it is indeed too low, and that participating in projects which damages the physical and cultural environment is professionally irresponsible, given what we know now about the consequences of this sort of damage.

While many practitioners espouse the importance of ethical and sustainable architecture, I believe it is time for the profession to begin to address this issue in a more unified manner.

As these values become more mainstream, the profession is at risk of being marginalized if we do not demonstrate leadership in these areas.

Elevating the standards of one’s profession should be everyone’s aspiration, and this need not be excessively difficult. A starting point may be the establishment of more robust Codes of Ethics, not unlike the one adopted by the AIA.

While most jurisdictions may have their own, I am not aware of one that addresses the broader issues of the architects’ responsibility to the natural and cultural environment.

No doubt there will be many different points of view on what constitutes ethical practice; all the more reason to begin this conversation now.

Allan Teramura, MRAIC, Architecture