Design Ethics: Rethinking Practice in 2021

Ethical practice spans all parts of architecture. From intersectionality and labor to the climate crisis, a designer must work with a range of conditions and contexts that inform the built environment and the process of its creation. Across cultures, policies and climates, architecture is as much functional and aesthetic as it is political, social, economic, and ecological. By addressing the ethics of practice, designers can reimagine the discipline's impact and who it serves. 

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© Stijn Bollaert

As Ethan Tucker recently suggested, what if we begin to think about ethical practice in similar ways as sustainability? In this idea, we can delve into what Tucker coins "Embodied Justice" across a range of issues. As part of our Year in Review, we're looking back at the last few years at ArchDaily for articles that explore the many facets of ethical practice. With both observations and specific examples alike, the writings explore ethics through different authors, geographies and themes. As our editorial content spans four languages and a global audience, the writings expresses different perspectives and material conditions.

What is Equity in Architecture and Design?

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© Suyin Chia

The definition of equity in dictionaries is the quality of giving equal treatment to everyone while still acknowledging the differences between individuals. In this sense, equity means fairness in the way we act toward each person but keeping in mind his or her specific characteristics and needs. It is also worth mentioning that the terms equity and equality are often used interchangeably but they mean different things, mainly because equality is based on the principle of universal rights, in which all individuals are subject to the same rules, without exception.

The Climate Crisis & Uneven Green Transitions

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© Antonio Garcia

Since the 2015 Paris agreement, mitigating climate change has been established as a common, world-encompassing goal; however, both the impacts of the climate crisis and the actions currently being taken vary widely across the globe. At the moment, the most prominent cities are outpacing governments in addressing the climate crisis and fostering a green transition, but their actions are counteracted by inaction and an increase in carbon emissions elsewhere.

Spatial Education & African Cities

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© Charlie Hui

Led by architectural designers Khensani de Klerk and Solange Mbanefo, Matri-Archi is a collective based between Switzerland and South Africa that aims to bring African women together for the development of spatial education in African cities. Through design practice, writing, podcasts, and other initiatives, Matri-Archi focuses on the recognition and empowerment of women in the spatial field and architectural industry.

Intersectional Design

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© Iwan Baan

Design stems from nuance, empathy and understanding. The best solutions address the needs, identities and context of a client and place. A designer's response needs to be informed by these different realities. Intersectional Design is a method of designing by thinking through how factors of identity (gender, race, sexuality, class, and many more) interact with one other. In understanding how these factors combine, we can more deeply understand the context of use and an individual user's priorities.

Labor Rights and Work Conditions

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© The Architecture Lobby

The early stages of practicing architecture are often met with what many explain as "the slippery slope of being an architect", where expectations do not at all meet reality of the profession and gets worse as the experience progresses. With constant burnouts as a result of working overtime and on weekends on the account of “gaining experience”, extraordinary expectations, low wages, and physical and mental strains, the prestige of being an architect has evidently vanished with modern-day work conditions.

How "Smarter" Cities Can Exacerbate Inequity

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© Hao Chen

The urban metropolises of our planet are home to an abundance of stories. They are home to stories of wealth, of innovation, and of architectural marvels. They are home, too, to stories of inequality, inequity and of urban divides – places where one’s income determines the quality of the spatial environment around them. Within these stories has developed an increasing advocation for making cities “smarter”, the goal being to use data and digital technology to build more efficient and convenient urban environments.

Strategies to Decarbonize Architecture

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© CO Adaptive Architecture

The concept of “decarbonization” has been in vogue recently in political speeches and global environmental events, but it has not yet gained enough attention in the field of architecture to profoundly change the way we design and construct the world of tomorrow. Buildings are currently responsible for 33% of global energy consumption and 39% of greenhouse gas emissions, indicating that architects must play a significant role if we are to stop or reverse climate change.

What Can Design do in Social Crisis?

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© Nicolás Valencia

A 4 cent fair increase for the Metro in Santiago sparked mass fare-dodging protests in Chile starting on October 6. Alongside spontaneous street demonstrations, the protests spilled into widespread violence across Santiago during the following days until October 18. That day, the Metro network collapsed, the riots multiplied across the city, and looting and fires were out of control. This social discontent took the streets of Santiago by surprise, but it was quickly realized that the fair increase was simply the last straw that broke the camel's back.

Queer Looks On Architecture

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© Adli Wahid

A growing number of theorists and practitioners have been discussing the impact of gender and race on the profession and theory of architecture. Issues linked to the relationship between the built environment, sexual orientation, and gender identity, however, remain particularly understudied, perhaps because of their relative invisibility and less clearly identifiable discriminatory consequences.

The Impossibility of Equity

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© Anne Fougeron

As Duo Dickinson explains, “equity” is a moving target. "We who create architecture want our devotion to have a true forum of objective Equity. But motivations are not outcomes." He goes on to explain that how we judge design inevitably carries the baggage of “Style” and that makes universal equity in design apprehension impossible. In turn, how we react to everything, including the things that are designed, does not have the luxury of having a universal equity in outcome.

This article is part of the ArchDaily Topic: Year in Review. Every month we explore a topic in-depth through articles, interviews, news, and projects. Learn more about our monthly topics. As always, at ArchDaily we welcome the contributions of our readers; if you want to submit an article or project, contact us.

About this author
Cite: Eric Baldwin. "Design Ethics: Rethinking Practice in 2021" 30 Dec 2021. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

© Iwan Baan


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