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On architecture and ethics
Ethics is an important and recurring issue for architects. The writer and broadcaster, Jonathan Meades states “Ethics and architecture should not inhabit the same sentence.”, taking aim, essentially, at the claims for architecture’s exceptionalism. Why, he asked, should architecture be different from other professions or creative pursuits that are apparently unconcerned with questions of ethics?
In the summer of 2008, during the Olympics in China, press coverage focused on the Chinese government effort to present a “new China” as a principle player in the world community. A key aspect of portraying a “new China” involved the presentation of dynamic architecture, as the building designs for the Beijing Olympics were remarkable and varied. These designs shared center stage with the athletes and an extremely welcoming national population.
Both future achievements, the Tower at Dubai Creek Harbor, in Dubai, and the Jeddah Tower, in Saudi Arabia, will be two spectacular buildings, and feats of modern engineering. Their ongoing construction is an apparent race for the title of world’s tallest structure, and the establishment of global notoriety.
The creative efforts of the involved architects reach far beyond the Olympics and these towers, and have opened up several questions regarding a moral dilemma of doing business with governments that are known worldwide as an extremely repressive and brutal totalitarian regimes.
Some would argue that architects should be free to do business with whomever they choose, regardless of their client’s political structure. A common sentiment is “After all, business is business”. Conversely, others would argue that it is not possible for an architect to be apolitical.
From our perspective, architects can be role models in the public eye. This is particularly true in the aforementioned newly developed parts of the world that are driving the global economy. By choosing to do business or not do business with certain governments or private entities, architects have an opportunity to make a moral statement.
Do architects have a moral obligation when it comes to choosing work in countries with suspect governments? Should our government impose restrictions on doing business with countries such as Cuba or North Korea? Is the global market so strong that the economic benefits outweigh any political differences? These are important questions facing architects today.