Imhotepic Oath

As is now well documented both Sarah Montague’s questioning and Hadid’s reciprocal actions have been the catalyst for a wide ranging debate that many people are citing as well over due. The premise is basic; should Architects place a greater weight on Ethics.

One issue that was discussed during the interview itself was that of sexism. In response to Montague’s question of whether sexism had been prevalent in the industry Hadid said it had “got much better” and that “the stigma had lifted”. Afterwards many social media commentators remarked that the interview would have not been conducted in the same manner if the interviewee had been a prominent male architect. This assertion must carry  a fragment of truth as she was introduced on the programme itself as the ‘first woman to win the RIBA Gold Medal’

A discussion of Ethics and Architecture has been sparked by the, incorrect, allegations of deaths on Hadid’s Qatar 2020 stadium site. Janice Turner of the Times wrote “Architects have a higher moral duty than other artists since they have the greatest power to shape society” [1]

Whilst Julia Burden of Ver Architecture is quoted in the Architect’s Journal Article dated 1st October 2015 as stating that famous international architects have the “potential to promote the vision of undemocratic leaders” [2]

As architects it is obviously not desirable to “fall into the role of enablers of oppression and ecological damage”[3] for any unpleasant characters, however Frank Ghery offers a rather tongue in cheek opinion that democracy creates chaos;

“It means the guy next door can do what he wants, and it creates a collision of thinking. In cities, that means people build whatever they want. I think the best thing is to have a benevolent dictator — who has taste!”[4]

There are also commercial considerations. These often dubious regimes correlate to being some of the worlds financial elite and during a period where many architectural practices have suffered or even closed due to the state of the world economy it must be alluring to secure work with such wealthy clients. However, there has to be a balance and a line drawn that should not be crossed with potential projects and clients. The tricky part for the architectural profession is defining such a line when it is so easily influenced by economics, politics, beliefs and opinions.

Whilst the act of Hadid terminating the interview early is undoubtedly of benefit in commencing many worthwhile discussions on a variety of topics her actions appeared particularly petulant. Stephen Bayley, founder of the Design Museum, wrote that “Listeners may have formed opinions of their own about Hadid’s intractable views, aggressive demeanour, lack of charm and ocean-going bitterness”[5]

Hadid may have been able to defend her projects more coherently for a few more minutes, Montague had pushed various points a number of times, in a way not uncommon for The Today Programme. This would have surely frustrated even the most mild mannered architects. Channel 4 news presenter Kristian Guru-Murthy defended her;

“I have some sympathy too for Zaha Hadid. She’d won a prize. In the normal world that provokes praise. In the media it invites questions. Of course, she’d have done much better to stay and point out the facts about her proposed Tokyo stadium, but it’s her right to walk” [6]

One Thing is for certain the story wouldn’t have reached a viral nature if she had not have walked out.

Whilst Hadid and many other prominent architects have achieved ‘Starchitect’ status in modern society she has not accomplished the level of a deity. The only Architect to do so is the Egyptian architect Imhotep – who was responsible for the world’s first monumental stone building and is the first architect we know by name.[7] Does the modern profession of architecture to look back in time and form an Imhotepic Oath to protect it’s future.

I believe that the RIBA code of conduct is adequate when it comes to the competency of an individual practicing architect and to make an Oath above this could be limiting to the act of creativity. However, I feel that as a body an Oath for Registered Practices to promote behaviour beyond compliance towards clients and it’s employees could be worthwhile, protecting and enhancing the public perception of architecture as an entity.

  1. Practices of Architects have the privilege that they can shape society. It is therefore a responsibility of practices not to promote the vision of companies, leaders and regimes when it is evident human rights are not held sacrosanct.
  2. Architectural practices should provide a holistic working environment for it’s staff, allowing for the provision of their health and actively enhancing their on-going education.
  3. Architectural practices are custodians of the built and natural spaces that we inhabit. They should make every effort to enhance both at all opportunities.
  4. As a collective group a practice of architects should assess the ethical arguments against a project in at least equal vigour to the commercial aspects for it.

[1] Richard Waite, 2015, Ethics and architecture: Where do you draw the line? [Online], Available at < http://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/newsletter/news/ethics-and-architecture-where-do-you-draw-the-line/8689785.article?WT.tsrc=email&WT.mc_id=Newsletter275&gt; [accessed 7/10/2015]

[2] Richard Waite, 2015, Ethics and architecture: Where do you draw the line? [Online], Available at < http://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/newsletter/news/ethics-and-architecture-where-do-you-draw-the-line/8689785.article?WT.tsrc=email&WT.mc_id=Newsletter275&gt; [accessed 7/10/2015]

[3] Richard Waite, 2015, Ethics and architecture: Where do you draw the line? [Online], Available at < http://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/newsletter/news/ethics-and-architecture-where-do-you-draw-the-line/8689785.article?WT.tsrc=email&WT.mc_id=Newsletter275&gt; [accessed 7/10/2015]

[4] Kristine Lofgren, 2013, Gehry says he prefers fashionable dictator to democracy [online], Available at< http://inhabitat.com/frank-gehry-says-he-prefers-a-fashionable-dictator-to-democracy-when-it-comes-to-creating-architecture/&gt; [accessed 8/10/2015]

[5] Dezeen, 2015, Zaha Hadid is ‘Resentful and Wronged’ says Stephen Bayley [Online], available at< http://www.dezeen.com/2015/10/05/zaha-hadid-resentful-and-wronged-says-stephen-bayley/&gt; [accessed 8/10/2015]

[6] The Guardian, 2015, Is it ever ok to walk out of an interview [online], Accessed at < http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/sep/26/debate-is-it-ever-ok-to-walk-out-of-interview-robert-de-niro-zaha-hadid > [accessed 10/10/2015]

[7] BBC, Imhotep (2667BC-2648BC) [online], Available at <http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/imhotep.shtml [accessed 10/10/2015]

Image Credit:

Header Image – http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/aes/b/bronze_statuette_of_imhotep.aspx

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s