Thursday, February 6, 2014

Ethically Speaking

By Phil Mevert

            The Architecture profession and its associated fields are very unique compared to other businesses, especially with regards to ethics. With architecture alone there are two organizations, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) each have their own code of ethics.  One of the biggest differences with Architecture versus a typical business is that the clients/customer typically is not the only affected by our final product. Also, the concern is with the health and safety of the client and anyone else who may occupy the designed space(s).  A great example of a test of ethics in the field of Architecture is the Fifty-Nine Story Crisis. While the design of the Citicorp Center in New York City was built to code, a change to the structural connection during construction increased the potential for structural failure of the building during strong winds. This created quite a few ethical dilemmas for the structural engineer who designed the buildings structure.

One of the first ethical issues that arises, and really brought about even more ethical situations, is when a student in engineering calls William LeMessurier who was the structural engineer on the Citicorp Center. The student questioned the design and placement of the columns on the building. Many professionals would question how this could be an ethical issue, in large part because of the arrogance that many have or develop in the profession.  However, based teleological ethics, which deals with the end result of actions, it would be wise to listen to the student and discuss the design with them since they are the future of the profession. This is exactly what LeMessurier did. LeMessure took the time to discuss and explain to the odd placement of the columns on the building, the reasoning behind it and how it does indeed work structurally. Both the AIA and NCARB in their ethics touch on this matter in that professionals with certain knowledge should pass that knowledge on to others for the betterment of the profession.

            After LeMessurier talked with the student, he re-evaluated his design by calculating the diagonal wind loads on the structure with welded connections. An ethical dilemma surfaced on day when LeMessurier referenced the Citicorp Center to solving the structure on a new design. One of LeMessurier’s coworkers informed him that on the Citicorp Center during construction, that the beams and column joints had bolted connections substituted in lieu of welded connections. This substitution was allowed based on the codes that were in place at the time. This new information worried LeMessurier and when he went home that night and ran the calculations with the bolted connections the structure showed a higher percentage of failure in an extremely strong storm with high winds hitting the corners. Since the code only looked at straight on winds the building still met the code requirements with the bolted connections, however, as the design profession has the responsibility of the health and safety of those who occupy the designs. It would be easy to just look past the change in structural connection and say it met code and be done with it, but ethics do not stop with just meeting code requirements. Teleological ethics would suggest that LeMessurier inform the Citicorp executives about the potential failure of the structure. LeMessurier, after contemplating all his options, decided that he should test his theories of the failure and the results that welded connections would yield.  The test confirmed the failure issue as well as the proposed fix to the issue. LeMessurier then took the proper steps to informing Citicorp of the issue and how to fix this. Both the AIA and NCARB have in their ethics documents to do what is best for the client and the community. LeMessurier showed great ethics in his stepping forward to admit his mess-up. 

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