An Ethical Architecture

Author: Emily Shays

In “An Ethical Architecture”, Emily Shays uses Philip Bess Philosophy about ethic in architecture to frame that moral obligation of architecture is more about the reaction to the society and it’s not possible to eradicate individualism from society. Shays Pointed out Aristotle philosophy about the moral architecture and Plato’s viewpoint about the form are both necessary to be considered in architecture; one could perhaps be more related to the society and on more to the individual understanding of the world.- Editor: Ashkan Shirani

Philip Bess delves into the philosophical debate surrounding ethics in architecture. He posits that architects have become consumed by humanism. In a world where narcissism is celebrated, architects have kept pace. Bess believes this is to the detriment of the profession. Buildings do not exist in the void, they belong to cities. When a building rejects its context, it is noticeable and doesn’t aide in the city’s growth. Architecture, politics, philosophy, culture, and society are all intertwined, so these parallels Bess draws from Plato and Aristotle are not contrived. The purpose of architecture is not just functional, it is psychological. It is about creating livable, adaptable, beautiful environments for everyone. Some architects reject this notion for the sake of ease. They believe architecture is an art form and nothing else and are therefore able to justify their rejection of politics and the social implications of their actions. Architecture cannot be separated in this manner, while it is an art form, it has larger impacts that cannot be ignored.

Bess advocates for an ethical standard in architecture, though the means of implementing this is vague. He argues that architecture has a moral obligation to be sustainable, to react to its context, to address the people (regardless of class), to promote social equity, and to generally move the city and architecture forward. Architecture should embody these attributes, but it cannot be forced. The reality of policing such policies is inconceivable. Beyond this though, architecture is a reaction to society, and it always has been. These socialist ideas are utopian and though they should not be discredited, we know from history that they pose feasibility issues. The world will follow along in bliss until one person decides they need more. It is impossible to eradicate individualism from society, so it must not be eliminated from architecture. Bess proposes a single truth and dismisses any alternative viewpoints. In a time when religious, social, and political groups are so pious with their condemnation of anything outside of their established worldview it is perhaps fitting that Bess does the same with this ethical debate. This antipathy is unnerving in a social setting and in this architectural debate.

Architects and theorists may fight for a single and just cause, but controlling the path of architecture is not our right. We should fight for the beliefs we are passionate about, but understand that we may not be right. We do not get to choose how history remembers us.



( Illustration: Michael Kirkham)


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