Are Architects Dealing Drugs?

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“We are made wise not by a recollection of our past but by a responsibility for our future.” — George Bernard Shaw

“If I don’t do it, someone else will.”

It’s the drug dealer’s fallacy.

It’s a false choice. It’s not a binary “either/or” choice, usually there are alternatives.

So are architects dealing drugs? I have no data, but they can certainly be guilty of the same fallacious binary argument.

In this, I could consider discussing the ethical dilemma faced by an architect when commissioned to do a casino or perhaps a detention camp, but they’re uncommon examples. It is far more juicy to consider the example of an architect cutting fees to win a good commission. Architects cutting fees below what is considered a “reasonable” fee, one that’s potentially at or below cost. Rationalising, “If I don’t, someone else will and they’ll get the job.”

Technically they may be right, but there’s still a problem with this lack of consideration. They’re clearly aware that this is a problematic act, or they wouldn’t feel compelled to justify their position. There’s an aspect too that this is something beyond their control, they’re blaming conditions over which they apparently have no influence. It’s a cop out, avoids responsibility and it’s a rationalisation that allows them to do what they know to be the wrong thing.

We’re all aware of the potential consequences of following this path. It can lead to either financial loss, lower quality work, an adverse impact on the office and/or staff or a combination of the aforementioned. It also drags professional fees down, devaluing the work done by the profession, having a long term impact across the industry.

Of course fee cutting is not the only example of this fallacy. It is used to justify employing staff without pay or below award rates. It is used to take on dubious commissions (ethically challenged or not) or work for dubious clients (ethically challenged or not). It’s also not just architects that do it, it’s used all the time by people avoiding taking responsibility for their actions.

This is not to say that on occasions there may only be two choices, but the point is, were other options sought or considered first? Was there time taken to think of a third or fourth option? I refer back to my previous two articles: Architects, Show Your Working & Architects & Hamlet… Making Decisions Badly. It’s not usually a binary choice.

So my question is, How often do you find yourself saying, “If I don’t do it, someone else will.”or worse, “Everyone else is doing it.” ?

My challenge is, next time you find yourself saying one of these statements, stop, take a second to write down some other options you might have. Then seriously consider them within the frame of, What decision has the most desirable long term outcomes that I will be willing to stand behind and take responsibility for? Then make the decision that best fills that frame and take responsibility for that decision, as well as the consequences that may flow on from that.

First published on Redshift Architecture & Art

Want to know more about me? I’m Michael & I’m a co-founder & architect at Redshift Architecture & Art, and founder & coach at Ed Shift.

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