Ethics in Architecture...


I am posting this in an attempt to gain some feedback from some of the members of the community regarding ethics in architecture, both inside and outside of the office  I work for a small firm in the inland northwest that is headed up by two partners.  One, whom owns 80% of the office who is gone playing golf 90% of the time (not an exaggeration), and another who owns 20% who is in the office 100% of the time.  The remainder of the office consists of myself (currently taking my ARE's), a licensed interior designer, and a draftsman.  Like many offices, we have downsized in recent years, so this is a basic skeleton crew.

Here is the ethical dilemma.  The majority partner has a son that works with a prominent local construction firm, in fact, he has worked for a few as it has become known in the community that his father has made negotiations for his sons employment with the intent of feeding work to the contractor.  This in an of itself is somewhat of an issue, but I can get over that, however, where it has gotten bad, and real bad, is that it has become more that merely "feeding work," it has moved on into rigging of bids, seeing that his sons company receives bidding documents weeks before competing contractors, and in one instance, where his son and his company actually opened the bids ensuring that they would be able to beat the lowest price.  It has reached the point where contractors have stopped referring work to us, and I am often asked by colleagues in the community if it is even worth bidding on our jobs since they already know who will be awarded the contract.  To me this is not only embarrassing, but highly unethical, and in a time when so many contractors are struggling to find work, it is unacceptable.  What can be done about this??

The second issue is with the other partner.  While he may be running the office for the most part, he seems incapable of doing it without slenderizing everyone from our consultants, to our clients, and worst of all, his own staff.  I am not talking about merely saying "He needs to be better at details" or something, but to full out to the point where it could be detrimental to someone's career.  One of the worst targets of this is myself and I often here of his rants about me from my coworkers, contractors, consultants, and even some friends.  However, I have done nothing to warrant this, I graduated with honors, I hold a Bachelors and a Masters of Architecture, I have an outstanding portfolio, I am a LEED AP BD+C, my clients love working with me, and as I said before, currently wrapping up my ARE's.  All of this effort has resulted in me never being allowed to participate in meetings, even for the projects that I am supposedly the lead on.  We recently completed a large remodel of a very prominent building here in town, out of the entire 6-9 month process, I was only asked to attend two meetings.  When construction began, I was never asked to go to the site, or participate in any way.  I had the opportunity cross paths with one of the sub-contractors who I am friends with who informed me that in project meeting, my boss blames me for everything that goes wrong and how he tried to tell me to do things a certain way but I would not listen, and so on and so on.  This is only one example of this behavior that a partner in an architecture firm is conducting.

What really bothers me about this behavior is how this could be hurting me and my reputation.  Despite the fact that I have satisfied my IDP requirements, I have not continued to interact with the practice of architecture in a realistic manner since.  I am basically kept in a hole growing dumber by the day, and while I have no intention of staying with this office, I can only fear that his short comings as a leader will have a horrible effect on my ability to be a productive member of better firm.

All of these concerns can be applied to the interior designer in our office as well, who is often a target of his mouth.  In fact, we have come to realize that the better we get at something, or the more tools or recognition we aquire (AIA, NCARB, LEED, or NCIDQ) the more of an antagonist he is towards us.  It has even reached apoint where he will baltently make fun of us to the drafter (his pet) right in front of us.

This is only the tip of the iceberg, but thanks for the time, if anyone has any thoughts, I am all ears.


Mar 13, 12 2:14 am

Get out as soon as you can.  You've learned a lot here, but if you are in a smallish market your firm's reputation is not good and you want to shake that off.  You may find that you can't get a recommendation from this firm owner, because he is likely to badmouth you.  So be fair but clear when you talk to interviewers: you desire to leave the firm because you are not happy with their general operations and business practices.  No need to go into details, you do NOT want to sound like a tattle to potential new employers, but it's likely the other firms already know that your current firm is odd.  Don't gossip, be honest but professional.

Good luck. Firms seem to be starting to employ again, so this is a good time to start looking!

Mar 13, 12 2:27 am

The most ethical thing you can do in architecture is to anonymously post to a message board all of your complaints about how your employers and coworkers (idiots obviously) are slandering you (a genius!, like duh) in the pathetically vain hope that strangers will provide you with a gentle ego stroke.

Sorry but architecture is a tough gig, yo!

Mar 13, 12 10:05 am

As with any profession there are those with ethics and those without.

My best advice, no matter how thick your skin is, how well you handle these issues, is to find another job as soon as you can. In the long run you will not do yourself any favors working there( beyond a paycheck to cover your bills). The behavior will not improve. 

Especially if this is the community you intend to stay in long term your reputation can become damaged by association, while that can be repaired by conducting yourself with ethics, it can take work.

Best of luck. 

BTW do they still require someone to sign for or vouch for your 'moral character befitting an architect' when you apply for licensing?   That can end up being ironic. 

Mar 13, 12 10:20 am

Thanks for the good feedback Donna and Das.  Handsum, in know way did I imply that I was a genius, merely that I have good credentials and am no slouch, if anything, I was implying that I want to know more and be better at what I do.  All good architects know that architecture is not only a "tough gig" but more importantly,  there is always more to learn.  That is what it is frustrating; when you have someone who is supposed to be nurturing your career seem to go out of their way to hinder it.  Secondly, I don't recall ripping on my co-workers either, and by no means do I need an ego stroke.  Architects have a bad enough rep for being egomaniacs, so I prefer to keep myself as modest as possible, it seems to attract more people.  Finally, the post was not anonymous, my name is right there, "lionchild"...just like yours "HandsumCa$hMoneyYo".  You sound like you have a touch of bitterness in your voice, but I guess I would be bitter too if I looked in the mirror every morning knowing I was a misunderstood genius as I slipped my headset over my Taco Bell visor and headed to the nearest drive-through window...

Mar 13, 12 11:23 am

Welcome to the real world. What you are encountering is prevalent throughout the industry. It is a perfect example of capitalist ideals and the American way.

As my father used to say, you have a choice. You can sleep or you can eat. Take your pick.

Mar 13, 12 11:46 am

finding another job is your best path.

if what you're saying is true, some of the principals' activities are not just unethical but even illegal. turning them in won't do you any good though. they're already seeing the consequences of mis-handling bidding and i expect they'll see more.

dissociating yourself with the office - not just because of what they're saying about you but because potential employers might be associated with *them* and the reputation they're making - is your best bet. 

Mar 13, 12 12:17 pm


If what you write is true, there is no salvaging your working conditions or your treatment on the job.

What you should focus on instead is protecting (or even rehabilitating) your reputation and career.  And there's no way to do that where you are.  Resign quietly, with as little pomp as you can, and start looking.  Meanwhile, network in every possible area (community, neighborhood, professional, etcetera) so that people meet you, and don't just hear about you.

Good luck.

Mar 13, 12 2:09 pm

"I graduated with honors, I hold a Bachelors and a Masters of Architecture, I have an outstanding portfolio, I am a LEED AP BD+C, my clients love working with me..."

"Architects have a bad enough rep for being egomaniacs, so I prefer to keep myself as modest as possible"

I see what you mean by your modesty. You are quite humble indeed.  For the record, your credentials are not very unique or outstanding. In fact, they are common and standard in the industry today. Furthermore, as an employer I would question your character and integrity by how you responded to and insulted Handsum as a fast food worker.

Like everyone said above, if you are dissatisfied with your current condition, your best bet is to leave the office. Most likely you will be doing them and yourself a service by doing so.

FYI, "in know way did I imply that I was a genius".  I think you meant "in no way..."

Mar 13, 12 2:17 pm

Typically, golf players “architectural” bosses don’t have even a draftsman certificate and when they show up at the office, they like to brag how much they spent on their golf clubs. Find another job is the best option.

Mar 14, 12 8:26 am

I would like to play golf 90% of the time

Mar 14, 12 9:09 am

BTW do they still require someone to sign for or vouch for your 'moral character befitting an architect' when you apply for licensing?   That can end up being ironic. 


when a supervisor signs off on IDP hours I think it's one of the items they're agreeing to.  it's pretty ironic when someone with no ethics or morals has the power to determine whether or not the person they are training has the kind of "character befitting an architect."


I think a lot of us wish this went both ways...

Mar 14, 12 10:51 am

This is incontravertible proof of why the IDP process is a worthless joke.

Mar 14, 12 11:52 am

Most states, I believe, have a code of ethics for architecture licensure.  My state does; it includes the potential for loss of license if one smokes pot or doesn't make child support payments, among other transgressions not specifically stated.  Sadly it doesn't call out general architectural douchbaggery, which as MIles said is common in our field.

Mar 14, 12 11:52 am

Here's the thing my dear (lion)child;  your account is completely one-sided.  You tell us that your firm is toxic (but we can not really know that, can we?) however your behavior via post above indicates that you also toxic yourself (and that we can be quite certain of).

A new job might help you.  But you'll be better served by shutting up & growing up first.


Mar 14, 12 11:54 am

I see what you mean by your modesty. You are quite humble indeed.  For the record, your credentials are not very unique or outstanding. In fact, they are common and standard in the industry today. Furthermore, as an employer I would question your character and integrity by how you responded to and insulted Handsum as a fast food worker.


If you're trying to make sense of poor treatment by an employer, you're going to point to personal achievements (and yes, sometimes you overcompensate with bravado) as a reason not to be treated poorly - why are you trying to tear the OP down when they're already in a bad place?


yes this is a tough profession, and you need to look out for yourself, but recognizing and getting out of an abusive relationship is tough for many people - which is what bad work situations are.  everyone responds differently (and yes, both sides can be culpable), and some of us need more support than others.

Mar 14, 12 12:05 pm

I don't know about where you live but the practice they are entering into with the contractor is illegal. Unless they are solely going to one contractor alone or have a design/build relationship, the Canadian Construction Association and its various provincial chapters indicate this as totally illegal practice and have taken organizations to court over unfair tendering processes. Under no circumstances should a contractor be involved in the opening of bids unless all parties (other contractors) are present. Imagine the government putting out an RFP for prime consulting and they give one firm priority by a week and then opening with them the other proposals and shopping fees so the preferred firm can adjust their price. Totally unlawful.

I came out of a similar situation recently. Sure, we are getting one side of the story. I knew I had a bad attitude in the end of my run with my employer but they also had issues. I continued to express my concerns to them but they chose not to address any of them. The concerns raised were not impractical to address but my employers would say one thing and do the complete opposite. You know, smoke and mirrors. Have they started to micromanage you? This is sometimes a sign of financial issues (ie. no money) which is what happened to me.

I would say start finding work elsewhere if you feel you are not receiving what you think you should. Go somewhere you will be happiest.

Mar 14, 12 2:49 pm

(off topic and irrelevant to everyone else, sorry) Hey citizen: if you're reading this, would you mind emailing via my page here?

Mar 14, 12 2:55 pm

I worked in similar toxic situation fresh out of school as well….

It was in a larger firm, but I was trapped being the “whipping boy” of this one senior PM that nobody is willing to work with.  To put it in perspective, he dumped tasks (including producing entire sets of CDs) without providing mentoring, when I made mistakes he yelled at me in the open office….  He would walk by my station, brief case in hand and say "I'm going to the client, where is my meeting material?" and it would be the first time I've heard about the said meeting, and he'll get mad.  He hoarded information, and blamed me for EVERYTHING to the client, consultants and the firm principals (sometimes rightly so, since I was so inexperience and worked without any mentoring, but most things are blatant lies.) 

The ironic thing is that  this person turned out to the best thing that has happened to my career.  I learned to anticipate blames (and hence problems) before they arise, and through his constant blaming, I took on responsibilities of the things he blamed me for and become their true owners.  Before long, the consultants and clients no longer called HIM when they have questions or problems, they called ME.  A couple of months after that, I was the person reporting project statues to the principals, not HIM.  I started managing entire projects just couple of years out of school.

You see where I’m going with this.  The situation can be turned around to your benefit, but much will depend on your willingness to invest extra effort and be able to deal with it professionally and not take it personal.  

As to your reputation, remember that those who speak ill of others destroy only their own reputations.

If the environment really is very toxic, by all means, leave.  However, like other poster stated, what you are encountering is no uncommon, so you have a pretty high chance of running into it again if you change firms.  Why not take this as an opportunity to practise how to deal with it?  



Mar 14, 12 4:43 pm

Been working in this field for near a decade in different locations, and unfortunately, as quite a few posts say, these people are way too common. You can't get rid of jackasses, no matter what you do. On the flip side, here's my two cents worth:

1. Things, people and reactions you hate will be very useful to you in the long run, just as much as learning new things. Remember them well, and learn to deal with it.

2. Leave your current work with as little fanfare as possible, don't make it a personal issue. Say stuff such as, 'I need to grow in my field and I feel I've learned all I can here' etc. Don't put it, or specific people, in a negative light. It will leave your current employers feeling trapped and frustrated because there was nothing absolutely wrong with your statements, and they can't poke fun at you for it. Don't rise to their bait either. Just stick to your story, like a criminal slated for death row pleading innocence in his last trial.

3. Don't leave a single copy of any info you have collated, or contact you have made, behind. Erase everything, burn the business cards or commit the information to your head, just don't leave any trace of it behind you when you leave. Architecture, contrary to popular belief, is very much a group effort. We would not survive on ideas alone, the fountainhead ideal is just that--- an ideal. Use the network, use the work you have done yourself, BUT DON'T LEAVE ANY OF IT BEHIND. Let them work at building it again. Leaving stuff behind just gives them more ammunition to destroy you, or worse, take your ideas and 'make' it their own, and just makes the work easier for them. If they cannot take the same kind of tough love they shelled out on you, well, tough. (Do this before handing in your 2 weeks notice, though).

4. Try hopping to other countries or other states in expanding your field. There is a large range to how much experience you should experience, and working in other countries, other locations gives you a larger scope of the different vibes of architecture--- and a much longer patience for any other jackasses you might meet.

Hope that helps!


Mar 15, 12 12:20 am

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