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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Strategic CSR - Architects

The article in the url below discusses the role played by professionals in society. It questions what responsibilities should be owed in return for the undoubted privilege of belonging to a profession. It raises these questions, in particular, in relation to architects:
"What are the ethical boundaries for architecture? Architecture is one of the learned professions, like medicine or law. It requires a license, giving architects a monopoly over their practices, in return for a minimal promise that buildings won't fall down. Raphael Sperry [a Bay Area architect] … thinks the public deserves more in return for that monopoly."
The article was prompted by a recent decision by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) not to sanction members "who design solitary-confinement cells and death chambers." The justification offered is that individual architects should be free to determine for themselves whether facilitating the state's machinery of death contravenes their personal values. Critics of the decision argue that architects, like the medical profession, have a broader responsibility towards society to, at a minimum, do no harm:
"Mr. Sperry and his organization, Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility, wanted the institute to adopt a rule similar to the American Medical Association's, which specifically prohibits doctors from participating in execution or torture."
The AIA's position is that, while it seeks to regulate the way that architects go about their business (serve their clients, act towards each other, etc.) it does not attempt to influence the nature of the buildings its members design. To do so, the AIA argues, "opens a can of worms":
"I imagined that [the AIA] was talking about other politically fraught buildings, like, say, nuclear power plants or abortion clinics. Mr. Sperry said there was a difference with death chambers. International human-rights treaties don't explicitly prohibit abortion or nuclear power, as they do execution and torture. The United Nations and other international human-rights organizations consider the death penalty a violation of human rights."
Sperry and his organization imagine a bolder role for architects in promoting social progress:
"This is an interesting moment, with echoes in the past. A century ago, movements like the Bauhaus, looking to improve design for the masses, emerged from a culture in which the widening gulf between rich and poor was sundering civil society."
The role of architects in designing prisons, the article argues, is one area in which the profession should be a force for social good, rather than an enabler of the destruction of life:
"… prison design is a civic cause for some architects who specialize in criminal justice and care about humane design. There is a lot of research documenting how the right kinds of design reduce violence inside prisons and even recidivism. Architects can help ensure that prisons don't succumb to our worst instincts … but promote rehabilitation and peace."
The debate is interesting – not only in terms of the boundaries of acceptable behavior within architecture, but in terms of the expectations placed on all professions. In essence, the article is discussing how we define a 'profession.' I have this discussion in my class in terms of whether or not managers are professionals (in the strict sense of the term). Our first instinct is to say they are, but when you stop and think about how a profession is defined and the responsibilities that accompany it (in particular, an ethical responsibility greater than the individual), you realize that managers are not professionals. A large part of the reason why managers have not become professionals, I think, rests at the door of business schools. The MBA should be the certificate needed to become a professional manager. Because business schools have adopted an idiosyncratic approach to the delivery of business education and avoided the opportunity to introduce meaningful standards and raise quality across the board, we have generated a system where it is not clear what it even means to have an MBA. One thing it clearly does not mean, however, is that the holder is a professional.
Take care
David Chandler & Bill Werther
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For Architects, a Debate Over Humane Prison Design
By Michael Kimmelman
February 17, 2015
The New York Times
Late Edition – Final