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Will I cause harm?: Practising Ethics Guides for built environment research

Dr David Roberts, Prof Jane Rendell, Dr Yael Padan, Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL; Ariana Markowitz, Dr Emmanuel Osuteye, Bartlett Development Planning Unit, UCL, UK

Awards RIBA President's Awards for Research 2021
Category Annual theme: Education

The latest RIBA Code of Professional Conduct, validation criteria and mandatory competences specify ethics and social purpose as key components of professional practice. ‘Practising Ethics Guides’ are a pioneering open-access educational tool for emerging and established built environment practitioners to teach themselves and others how to identify ethical dilemmas that may arise in research and practice, negotiate their ethical responsibilities, and rehearse strategies to navigate unpredictable environments with care and creativity.

Insightful and imaginative architectural practice encompasses a range of sites, contexts, and communities, and it is important to consider the benefits, risks, and harms to all connected with and affected by it. ‘Practising Ethics Guides’ are the result of an interdisciplinary collaboration between two long term projects exploring ethical protocols for built environment practitioners and strengthening pathways to urban equality, with particular attention to the western-centric bias of ethical values which privilege the individual over the communal or collective. Together, this work illuminates how the relationship between universal ethical principles and specific ethical processes is situated within particular contexts. These guides help navigate this relationship through generative questions as prompts to reflect on potential ethical considerations, guidelines that illuminate concerns, and actions that embody ethical principles.

‘Practising Ethics Guides’ offer insights from experienced built environment researchers. They are designed as an accessible point of reference at all stages of a project – from planning, to conducting activities in the field, to communicating and staging work. Rather than a regulatory hurdle, they consider ethics as an opportunity to enrich architectural practice through reflexive curiosity and critical investigation. Thinking through ethics compels us to grapple with ideas of enduring value, to question our position, and to expound what practitioners we want to be. The guides are shared via an open-access website and have already been embedded across international architectural education programmes.

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