Architecture as a Profession

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Knowing the demands and rewards, you should consider the following questions at this point in your search for a career.

Personal Character

Can you meet the high standards of character and conduct required of one who acts as a professional adviser?

Human Understanding

Do you have the patience and understanding to deal with people as their professional adviser?

Stamina and Discipline

Do you have the stamina to see yourself through years of intensive study and the sense of personal discipline to shape your professional growth all throughout your career?


Are you willing to accept the intrinsic rather than material rewards characteristically associated with having a professional career?

If you can answer "yes" to each of these points, you have the basic attitudes required for the rigors of a professional career.


Architecture is for people, and the foremost purpose of any building is to provide functional, healthful, safe, and pleasing shelter for human activity. A building affects not only its occupants, but its period of history and all those who come into contact with it. If a building is to be successful, its design must be appropriate to its time in history, to its place in the community, and to its function as a shelter. Its construction must be economical, safe, and of sound, well-maintained materials. The architectural profession must advise the public and the construction industry in the production of buildings that answer these criteria, and the individual architect must design these buildings and administrate the contracts for their construction. By discharging these responsibilities in their day-to-day practices, the members of the architectural profession protect the public interest while creating our constructed physical environment.

Any profession so vitally concerned with the protection of the public interest will develop certain private organizations and public regulative devices to assist it in the advancement of the art and science of its profession. Thus architecture-like other recognized professions such as law, medicine, dentistry, and accounting- exhibits four organizational and regulative devices characteristic of such professions.

First, there is a defined field of knowledge. As previously noted, the art and science of architecture dates from the efforts of the first people who piled stone on stone to create shelter for protection from the elements. In the intervening centuries, architectural knowledge has become a well-defined and developed field of human activity.

Second, there is an accredited system of education to prepare professionals for practice. Today in the United States there are more than 110 colleges and universities offering courses leading to degrees in architecture. Each of these schools is fully accredited by public and private agencies appointed to periodically review their course content and to issue accreditation credentials. These schools and the accreditation process are more fully discussed later.

Third, there is a required period of postgraduate internship followed by publicly administered examination leading to licensure to practice. Each of the fifty states plus the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands have laws requiring internship and examination prior to licensure to practice architecture. Internship and licensing periods in the architectural profession are more fully discussed later in the book.

Fourth, there is a recognized practicing profession dedicated to the promotion of the public interest through the advancement of its science, art, education, internship, and standards of practice. In 1857, a group of practicing architects formed The American Institute of Architects for these very purposes. Today, a majority of architects of professional status in the United States are members of the AIA and its more than 305 chapter and state associations. More than sixty other nations from Argentina to Yugoslavia have organizations similar to the AIA serving the public and the architectural professions in their own countries.


The American Institute of Architects renders dozens of services to the public and to its members on matters of architectural and urban design, education, research, office practice, building materials and services, legislation, and public relations, but its foremost function is the maintaining of the ethical and professional standards of the profession. These are embodied in its Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct, 1997 Edition. Excerpts from that document will illustrate the high standards of ethical and professional performance the members of AIA demand of themselves.

The Code is based upon the age-old realization that the profession of architecture calls for practitioners of integrity, culture, acumen, creative ability, and skill. The services of an architect may include those appropriate to the development of our physical environment, provided that the practitioner's professional integrity is maintained and that the services rendered further the ultimate goal of creating an orderly and beautiful environment. Further, it is recognized that the architect, as a professional, should seek opportunities to advance the health, safety, beauty, and well-being of the community. In other words, the architect has moral obligations to society beyond the requirements of law or business practices. In fulfilling the client's needs, the architect must always consider the public good and interest.

The Code also speaks to the architects' ethical and professional conduct in three ways:
  1. By specifying broad principles of conduct,
  2. By spelling out ethical standards that are more specific than the usual broad principles of conduct and that are both goals toward which members of the AIA should aspire and guidelines for their professional performance and behavior, and
  3. By specifying rules of conduct that are mandatory, their violation being subject to disciplinary action by the AIA.
In their totality, the specifications of the Code lay out a rounded set of operating guidelines for the professional conduct of members in the pursuit of their professional activities wherever they may occur.

It will be sufficient for our purposes here to note examples of the various kinds of statements mentioned above, the broad principles of conduct, the more specific ethical standards, and the rules of conduct.

The five canons or broad principles of conduct of the Code are as follows:

Canon I: General Obligations. Members should maintain and advance their knowledge of the art and science of architecture, respect the body of architectural accomplishment and contribute to its growth; learned and un-compromised professional judgement should take precedence over any other motive in the pursuit of the art and science of architecture.

Canon II: Obligations to the Public. Members should embrace the spirit and letter of the law governing their professional affairs and should thoughtfully consider the social and environmental impact of their professional activities.

Canon III: Obligations to the Client. Members should serve their clients competently and in a professional manner, and should exercise unprejudiced and unbiased judgement on their behalf.

Canon IV: Obligations to the Profession. Members should uphold the integrity and dignity of the profession.

Canon V: Obligations to Colleagues. Members should respect the rights and acknowledge the professional aspirations and contributions of their colleagues.
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