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How do we know, as professionals designing the built environment, that the results of our work are good? I doubt anyone would deny that they want to do good work.


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But how do we, as those who shape physical environments, even begin to qualify our work in this way? How do we know what good work is? Should building projects merely avoid causing harm, or can they shape life in a positive way? How do we go about projects that aim change the world? Historically, the process of building—shaping the world around us- has always engaged ethical questions, and always reflects the ethos of the builders.

In other words, at its core, building is an ethical endeavor, so all built environments matter in an ethical sense. This becomes pertinent in specific ways given our current context. We now live in a world where more than half the population is urbanized. More than ever we rely on and spend time in environments of our own creation and more than ever, our built environment overtakes the natural one. If the popular vi. How do ethical questions relate to these contexts? Those who have some measure of power in shaping the built environment ought to be cognizant of their responsibilities, and ethics is the lens through which to understand these.

At a minimum, those who design the built environment should have a solid understanding of how ethics apply to the built environment to properly do their jobs. Considering the relation of power and responsibility positively, perhaps those who design the built environment, with their expertise and experience in relating humans to each other through space, in interfacing human life with the greater ecology, in affecting the processes that animate our world, and in expressing individual and collective values in physical form.

Perhaps they have a unique ability to contribute to and shape the direction of ethical discourse. The purpose of this book is twofold. The references and footnotes should be helpful in pointing the reader towards resources that more comprehensively cover individual topics. Second, the book is a framework for understanding how design can become a process of ethical inquiry. This understanding could improve the outcomes of design, and thus quality of the built environment, as well as empower design professionals contributing to ethical conversations that transcend the built environment.

Because building has large and long-lasting impacts on us and our environment, and at its core is a process engaging ethics, building designers ought to proactively engage ethical conversations through the design process. The foundational step in doing this is creating a framework for approaching building design in terms of ethical inquiry, so that our design process becomes our way of discovering, creating, and testing what is good.

Design is decision-making, so anyone who makes decisions about the physical shape of our world might find this book relevant. This book was created with different modes of consumption in mind. The full text on the left hand pages for the first three sections contains, in greater detail, the main ideas of the book.

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Footnotes and links to relevant materials are located in the left-hand margins of each page for easy reference, and to encourage you to explore other resources. The foundational step in doing this is discovering a framework for approaching building design in terms of ethical inquiry, so that our design process becomes our way of discovering, creating, and testing what is good. If building is the act of shaping the world around our lives, then the artifacts of building are the physical expressions of the action of life.

Therefore, the built environment is a record of what societies and individuals value- in other words, what they find good, morally acceptable, just, and ultimately worthy of pursuit. Viewed this way, ethical beliefs and what we build are inseparable. Yet, it is extremely hard to discern the ethical content of a given building or a space just by looking at it.

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To arrive at a coherent approach for considering the ethics of the built environment, we must go beneath the surface of buildings, spaces, and objects, and examine the processes of their operation and creation. In addition, thinking coherently about how ethics apply to design of the built environment requires that we first understand the basic approaches of ethics, what design fundamentally is, and how logic supports both ethical discourse and the design process.

These expressions could potentially be divided into four categories relating to the contexts of practice, individual well-being, collective human well-being, and ecology.

First, ethical design could express itself in the context of innovating practice. A design practice that changes the shape of their business towards certain ethical outcomes is akin to an individual who shapes their character towards certain virtues. This could consist of a commitment to doing a certain amount of pro-bono work, lending time and expertise for humanitarian causes, and expanding the types of services offered. In addition, this could include concern for the well-being of professionals that are a part of the practice. Whatever the desired outcome or focus, the medium is the structure of the design practice itself.

Several expressions of ethical design are oriented toward benefiting human well-being on the individual scale. Cultural, societal and economic concerns relate to collective human well-being, and as a result, are often expressed on a larger scale than concerns related to individual well being. The shapes of our neighborhoods, cities, and public buildings can indicate our collective well-being, as they often make the abstract problems inequalities, lack of culture, and environmental insecurity visible. Conversely, the built environment of our shared spaces can be designed to help solve these problems, and create better societal, economic, and cultural systems.

In actuality, ecology is the very material by which we create the other two, as each of our environmental interventions require space, materials, and energy. Theodore C. Denise, Nicholas P.

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White, and Sheldon P. Great traditions in Ethics. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas 4. Accessed August 25, MacIntyre resists the notion that he is a virtue ethicist strictly speaking, but his work has both advocated for philosophical positions and practices aligned with traditional virtue ethics, and been critical of contemporary approaches to modern moral philosophy.

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Ethics and the Built Environment

November 29, Accessed December 02, Ethics as a field of study is broadly described as the realm of philosophy concerned with morality, justice, and how individuals and societies ought to act. Many contemporary conversations around ethics concern specific fields or professions, such as business ethics or bioethics. Ethical positions are arrived at from logical arguments based on observation, knowledge, and philosophical concepts.

For thousands of years, through books, public forums, and in the arts, humans have offered answers to questions of good, morality, and justice. Early Christian thinkers such as Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas connected Greek ethical traditions to their theological reflection, and saw Christian ethics as a consummation of the virtue ethics of the preceding Greek philosophers. Duty ethics, also known as deontological ethics, is concerned with what is right in terms of to whom, or to what, we have a duty.

Ethics and the Built Environment

More complex expressions of duty ethics focus on layers of responsibility and the complications of competing claims, such as W. In its purest form Ross Utilitarian ethics focuses on the consequences of actions, and generally tries to ascertain what will result in the greatest good in terms of quantity or quality. Jeremy Bentham is known for popularizing the idea of quantifying the value of pleasures and pains for the purpose of increasing the former and reducing the latter termed post facto hedonistic calculus. A fourth approach to ethics focuses on justice, rights, and fairness in the context of society.

John Rawls, a 20th century philosopher, saw equality and reciprocity as a foundation to ethical behavior and just laws, acknowledging self interest and rationality like utilitarian philosophers , but adding equal opportunity as necessary for all people to achieve liberty to seek their self-interest. For the intents and purposes of this book, we will not thoroughly investigate any particular ethical position.

Moore, 2. I must try to explain the difference between these two. Moore, In addition to the pursuit of establishing principles and systems for understanding good, morality, and justice, some philosophers have focused on the very processes that help us arrive at ethical positions. Thinking about ethics in terms of process is especially applicable in a discussion of the ethics of the built environment, as our decisions about the built environment constitute design, and design is often an investigative, iterative process.

Moore is known as one of the founders of analytical philosophy. Therefore, ethics is a pursuit of the property of good, through which we discover the actualization of good, or the good. It also casts ethics as a continuous process of iteration, dialogue, and investigation, which are all transferable to the process of design.

These things have been attained not by lauding the enjoyment of these things and preaching their desirability, but by study of the conditions of their manifestation.

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With the transfer, these, and all tenets and creeds about good and goods, would be recognized to be hypotheses. Instead of being rigidly fixed, they would be treated as intellectual instruments to be tested and confirmed- and altered - through consequences effected by acting upon them. John Dewey was active in the spheres of educational reform, sociology, and philosophy as well as ethics, and especially sought to apply scientific and logical thinking to these fields. Dewey is often defined as a pragmatist or instrumentalist, in the sense that he saw ethical inquiry as a tool to improve social, economic, and political structures.

Although the design differs from science, one can reinforce the other. At the beginning of the design process, we often investigate precedents to understand them, in an attempt to replicate their successes and avoid their failures. After a completion of a project, we often evaluate it similarly.

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During the design process, we often posit ideas through sketches, models, and other forms of realization to see if they work. These modes of design often mirror the forming and testing hypotheses—not dissimilar from the scientific method. More formally, design research applies rigorous scientific process to form a defnite understanding of a subject.