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Profession of the people

Stephen Hodder

Social responsibility and ethics are an essential part of the architect’s role

Architects place huge value on professional standards and their role in supporting public interest, working hard to build better environments for people to live and work in.

While these principles shape the work of practitioners around the world, changes to the environment within which we operate lead us to question the compatibility of these values with current trends in urban development, procurement and the challenges of increasing globalisation and competition.

The architect’s role in construction workers’ welfare, the displacement of communities caused by urban regeneration and the impact of international investment in new housing are three issues that have been under the spotlight in recent times.  Accusations of complicity as part of the supply chain involved in such projects are concerning for all those affected, particularly as our profession has always had a strong moral compass with a long and proud history of social activism. The importance architects have given to sustainable and accessible design illustrates the profession’s sense of responsibility and adaptation to support society better.

But is there more our profession and our Institute could be doing to share and define an ethical approach that is appropriate to the changing world in which we work?

We’re looking at how to help local authorities to stand up to developers who see affordable housing polices as an inconvenience rather than a fundamental part of their role

The RIBA Code of Conduct’s guiding principles cover integrity, competence and skill – including requirements that members have regard for the effect of their work on its users and the local community. Whether to make changes to the Code is part of our discussions as we develop the RIBA’s strategy and business plans up to 2020.  Ethics, as always, will form a core part of this strategy and we are committed to showing even greater leadership on issues they encompass.

Earlier this year we announced our co-founding of an International Ethics Standards Coalition and we are developing more guidance for members in the area of social responsibility and ethical practice – ironically, one of the recommendations of the recent Edge Commission Report on the future of professionalism, ‘Collaboration for Change’.

Many of these ethical issues are actually symptoms of other failings and conflicts. For example, in many parts of the UK, particularly in cities like London where the shortage of new homes is most acute, the housing market has reached the point where only the wealthiest can contemplate buying their own home. The lack of affordable housing is why the RIBA is part of Homes for Britain –a campaign that brings together architects, housing associations, house builders, planners and landlords to call on the government to make tackling the housing crisis a priority. This needs a greater focus and incentive to build more high quality affordable homes is beyond doubt. This isn’t an issue that can be solved with one sweep of a pen. Over recent years, the RIBA has argued that local government and housing associations should be given greater freedom to invest in building new homes. Moving forward, we’re looking at how the rules around viability and affordable housing requirements can be clarified and strengthened to enable local authorities to stand up to developers who see affordable housing polices as an inconvenience rather than a fundamental part of their role as good corporate citizens.

I would like to thank all those who have contributed their thoughts on ethics, and other important issues during our recent discussion sessions and online consultation on the RIBA Strategy 2016-2020. If you haven’t been able to participate, or have further thoughts to share, please do email me at

Stirling Event

The RIBA takes Stirling to Jersey with a special RIBA/AJA Stirling Prize debate as part of the Jersey Architecture Biennale 2015.
Inaugural Stirling Prize winner Stephen Hodder MBE will introduce the event, followed by Tony Chapman who will share the history of the Stirling Prize, including a film about James Stirling.
The day will conclude with representatives of each of the six short-listed architecture practices discussing their designs, chaired by Hodder. 
Friday 18 September, 10.30am – 4pm,
St Helier, Jersey. 
Tickets are free, but booking essential. Book via