Chapter 1.3
Professional Conduct and Ethics


Code: A set of rules, or systematic collection of statutes or body of laws arranged to avoid inconsistency and overlap; standard of moral behaviour.

Complaint: Formal written accusation or statement of grievance.

Discipline: Order maintained among members of a profession; control exercised over members of an organization; chastisement.

Ethics: Moral principles upon which rules of conduct are based.


Architectural practice is a profession as well as a business. What distinguishes professional practice from a business is the higher standard of responsibility to the public, meeting standards of professionalism, integrity and competence, and abiding by codes of conduct and ethics. Like other legislated professions, architecture has duties to many stakeholders in the built environment, including the environment itself. Understanding these professional responsibilities, why they exist and how they guide the actions of professionals is the domain of ethics – regulations which govern professional actions in the field (codes of conduct) and the principles which guide actions (codes of ethics).

This chapter will briefly outline the foundations of professional ethics, its basic principles and regulations, and their governance in Canada.


The Hippocratic oath is a first iteration of establishing professional ethics. While the oath was created for medical practitioners, there are general principles which continue to influence current professional codes of ethics and conduct.

The oath’s first principle sets basic rules of conduct for those applying their professional knowledge. Second, the oath implies a core concept that this kind of special knowledge requires a code of conduct concerning the appropriate use of the body of knowledge in the public realm. Third, it also implies a distinction between such “professionals” and the lay public, and that the distinction relates directly to the body of knowledge and its use.

The oath contains a code of conduct covering three important points which continue to be a significant part of modern professions:

  • do no harm;
  • maintain patient/client confidentiality;
  • pass this knowledge on to the next generation.

Variations on these three elements continue to form the basis for the codes of ethics and conduct for many professionals, including the architectural profession. It also provides an outline of the responsibilities of professionals. Architects have responsibilities to the public and to the environment (similar to “do no harm”), to clients (integrity, confidentiality and impartiality), to fellow professionals, and to the next generation through internship, mentoring, and the transfer of the body of knowledge. In this way they also meet their professional duty to ensure the continuation of the profession. These and other responsibilities are outlined in codes of ethics and codes of conduct published by the regulating associations of architects.

Ethical Principles and Regulations

The taking of an oath is a promise both to one’s fellow professionals and to the public the professional serves. In many jurisdictions to this day, architects must take a public oath or declaration (see Appendix A). It is a promise to uphold the profession’s standards of conduct through adherence to an architects act and its regulations and bylaws.

The rules of conduct are found in the various acts, regulations, bylaws and practice notes of the provincial or territorial associations of architects. Ideally, the jurisdictional authorities consolidate rules about competence and ethical conduct into a discrete publication (listed in Appendix D). A separate document has several advantages:

  • it can be readily referenced and understood;
  • architects do not have to search for conduct rules among all other bylaws, articles of the architects act, and council rulings;
  • it provides the context conducive to a full understanding of individual rules.

At the international level (see Appendix C), the International Union of Architects or Union Internationale des Architectes (UIA), through its Professional Practice Commission, has developed recommended guidelines for the UIA Accord on Recommended International Standards of Professionalism in Architectural Practice — Policy on Ethics and Conduct, intended as a model code for the UIA member sections. Briefly, it outlines general principles and four obligations, and then describes how these principles and obligations are applied (conduct).

The four obligations are:

  • general obligations (requirements to achieve and maintain competency);
  • obligations to the public (requirements to ensure that professional affairs respect social standards and the environment);
  • obligations to the client (requirements to ensure proper professional service and judgement);
  • obligations to the profession (requirements to uphold and respect the dignity of the profession).

The code of ethics of the Ordre des architectes du Québec (OAQ) bears some similarity to the UIA document.

The National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) – the U.S. organization that sets standards, including standards of professional conduct for architects – has developed Model Rules of Conduct and has encouraged its adoption by its state Member Boards. In this document there are seven guiding principles and five rules: competence, conflict of interest, full disclosure, compliance with laws, and signing and sealing documents.

The American Institute of Architects (AIA), in their Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct, makes the distinction between principles and conduct by establishing three different levels: canons (broad principles), ethical standards (specific goals), and rules of conduct (rules arising from the canons and ethical Standards).

The Architectural Institute of British Columbia (AIBC) has developed its own Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct, based on the NCARB model. The Saskatchewan Association of Architects (SAA) has adopted a similar code to that of the AIBC in its Bylaw No. 15. Its five subject areas are:

  • competence;
  • conflict of interest;
  • full disclosure;
  • compliance with laws;
  • professional conduct.

It should be noted that while the principles of professional duty to the public remain unchanged, codes of conduct in architectural practice evolve and adjust to changing societal standards and expectations. For example, in the past, professional conduct by architects included conditions that tightly regulated a practice’s business model, such as preventing engagement in construction management or construction. In most jurisdictions, and subject to certain provisions, these actions are now considered acceptable business practices for an architectural firm.

Those provinces or territories with societal, legislative or cultural changes and those with high rates of growth have tended to periodically update their rules, sometimes comprehensively, so that conduct requirements remain clear to an expanding and increasingly diverse membership. It is important for the practising professional to remain current with any changes and developments in the code of conduct in their jurisdiction.


In Canada the provincial or territorial legislatures permit the profession to be self-governing. As such, the creation and administration of bylaws, codes of ethics and professional conduct are undertaken by the provincial or territorial associations of architecture. The associations are responsible for maintaining the ethical standards and for monitoring practising professionals for adherence to the standards.

The Role of the Provincial and Territorial Associations of Architects

The criteria for acceptable behaviour of an architect are set out in the architects acts and the subsidiary bylaws and regulations developed by each provincial or territorial association. When an individual becomes registered or licensed as an architect, they assume professional rights and obligations.

The provincial or territorial architects act (or the Professional Code in Québec) authorizes a provincial or territorial association of architects to regulate its members and the practice of architecture by empowering the association to:

  • set eligibility criteria for becoming an architect (see Chapter 1.5 – Admission to the Profession for details on these criteria);
  • set conduct regulations for architects;
  • require architects to maintain currency through participation in continuing education programs;
  • investigate and adjudicate allegations of an architect’s professional misconduct;
  • administer disciplinary action should an architect be judged to have engaged in professional misconduct.

Each of the provincial and territorial architects acts differs in reflecting the unique customs and history of the architectural profession in that jurisdiction. However, the acts and regulations are similar regarding architects’ rights, obligations and disciplinary procedures. An architect who does not comply with a conduct requirement (sometimes called “professional misconduct”) may be reprimanded or fined, or have their licence temporarily suspended or permanently revoked.

Regulations and Bylaws

The existing bylaws or regulations in each province or territory can be broadly sub-divided as follows:

a) Ethical regulations or codes of ethics (those rules that assist in maintaining the public trust in the integrity of the profession)

Examples include rules requiring behaviour that exemplifies traits such as honesty, integrity, impartiality and respect for the law. Some of these traits would be familiar characteristics of virtue ethics. Ethical principles are fundamental to all the rules and regulations. For example, honesty is implicit in the requirement that an architect shall not knowingly make a false representation.

b) Regulations regarding competency (those rules that ensure the proper provision of architectural services to the public)

Examples include rules about the standards of care that characterize an architect’s advice or service, rules about the architect’s supervision of staff, and rules about the application of an architect’s seal.

c) Administrative rules and regulations (those rules that assist in the efficient operation of the provincial or territorial association)

Examples include:

  • rules about the timely payment by an architect of annual membership fees;
  • procedures for election to the association’s council;
  • procedures for changing a bylaw or regulation;
  • rules that require an architect who is aware of an apparent violation of the architects act to report it to the association.

Many rules of conduct stem from moral customs. They regulate the way an architect relates to others.
For example:

  • rules against offering or receiving bribes;
  • rules against violating laws and building regulations;
  • rules that require impartial professional judgement regardless of an architect’s personal interests.

Regulating Professional Conduct

The provincial and territorial associations of architects have established procedures for addressing complaints and administering disciplinary procedures in the event that an architect is suspected of professional misconduct. Following a rigorous complaints review process, should a complaint be found to be valid, the matter is typically referred to a disciplinary committee.

In some provincial and territorial associations, a disciplinary committee may convene a hearing concerning conduct of the referred member. The disciplinary committee is also responsible for administering disciplinary action should an architect be found in contravention of the architects act, its regulations or bylaws. Disciplinary hearings are quasi-judicial proceedings and therefore follow due process of law. The association and the architect accused of professional misconduct may be represented by legal counsel.

Typically, the findings of a disciplinary committee and subsequent disciplinary actions are published and distributed to the membership at large. Such publication has the following benefits:

  • it reinforces the prevailing ethical standard;
  • it demonstrates to society that the profession is exercising its mandate;
  • it provides a deterrent against unprofessional conduct by other architects;
  • it delivers continuing education to architects to refresh their knowledge on matters of conduct.

Architects should be aware of the common lapses of professional conduct in their province or territory. One of the most common contraventions of professional conduct has been the failure to comply with annual continuing professional development requirements. The requirement to maintain currency in the body of knowledge of architectural practice is part of the oath (see Appendix E) and is core to the competence architects profess to the public.

Emerging Trends

As noted above, codes of conduct and the responsibilities to the public can evolve and adjust to changing societal standards and expectations. It is incumbent on the provincial and territorial jurisdictional authorities and on practising professionals to be prepared for change.

Social Responsibility

A broad trend is emerging towards corporate social responsibility (CSR) over the last 50 years. While CSR is largely voluntary, there are growing expectations on the part of citizens’ groups and consumers for corporations to act beyond the bottom line into a larger arena of ethical action. Professions have greater obligations to the public good than do the voluntary actions of corporations. The public’s expectations are moving toward social justice, equity and human rights.

There are three emerging ethical issues which will have an impact on the practice of architecture. They are not actually new but are growing in the potential to expose an architect to increased responsibilities to the public.

Social Clauses

Procurement contracts and, more recently, construction contracts may now include “social clauses.” This is growing rapidly in the public sector. These clauses are often focused on labour, support for local social enterprises, and access issues (refer to, for example, “Social Procurement: State of Practice,” City of Vancouver, or “Public Procurement for Social Progress: A Social Platform Guide to the EU Public Procurement Directive”). They may also consider the supply chain of materials. “Overall, the goal is to encourage fair competition and provide better value for money, focusing on quality criteria, as well as the innovative nature of the offers” (from “Best practices in the field of social clauses in public procurements in Europe”). Refer also to “A Guide to Social Procurement” (Buy Social Canada, 2018).

Environmental Rights

In recent years it has been argued that the architect has an ethical role to play in the fight against climate change. In early 2018, the AIA adopted new rules and ethical standards that make sustainable design an imperative for its members, who must “make reasonable efforts to advise their clients and employers of their obligations to the environment.” The AIA’s National Code of Ethics also expanded on what architects’ goals should be in terms of energy conservation, water use, building materials and the ecosystem. Many municipal jurisdictions are now passing regulations concerning the rights of the environment while at the same time issuing RFP with inappropriate risk transfer and egregious contractual conditions, making it increasingly difficult for the architect to provide the services needed to meet environmental protection objectives. The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) is one of several organizations assisting municipalities in drafting regulations concerning the rights of nature. This also relates to what is called Wild Law. Refer also to David Boyd’s Rights of Nature and The Environmental Rights Revolution: A Global Study of Constitutions, Human Rights, and the Environment.

Controversy exists over the validity of claims for environmental rights within the context of a building project as they have conventionally been external to the contractual relationships between a municipality and a building owner, and between that owner and his or her architect. The introduction of environmental protection through municipal bylaws or building program requirements is essential to the incorporation of a broader understanding of the value of environmental protection in the project. Notwithstanding a potential for influence, architects have no control over their clients’ objectives, program, and attitudes towards sustainable/regenerative design. The “reasonable efforts” to inform a client of the benefits or necessities of incorporating elements of environmental protection into a project must take place before the final project scope is fixed. This then raises the question, what events or behaviour would constitute professional misconduct should an architect be unsuccessful at encouraging a client to adopt higher building performance standards towards sustainable or regenerative design?

Human Rights

There are growing conflicts between local populations and the development sector concerning cultural rights, rights of access, housing rights, and, in international work, the rights of construction workers and their families (Human Rights Watch continues to compile reports of abuses, all of which implicate design professionals). It is noteworthy that, in Canada, the Canadian Human Rights Act and provincial or territorial human rights codes prevail over the basic requirements of building codes. (Refer also to a similar case in New York City with the United States v Avalon Chrystie, SLCE Architects, et al.)

Oaths and Declarations

An example of an oath taken by incoming members of the AIBC:

“Solemnly do I declare that having read and understood the Architects Act and the Bylaws and Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct of the Architectural Institute of British Columbia, and having passed the examinations, I am eligible for membership. Further do I announce that I will uphold professional aims, uphold the art, and the science of architecture, and I will thereby improve the environment. I also accept with obligation the need to further my education as an architect. I promise now that my professional conduct as it concerns the community, my work, and my fellow architects will be governed by the ethics and the tradition of this honourable and learned profession, in the public interest.”
(AIBC Bylaws 9.0)

An example of a declaration (this is signed by incoming members of the NSAA):

“I am the person making application for a licence to practice architecture.

The photograph submitted with this application is an unaltered photograph of me taken within the last six months before the application was made.

I hereby authorize the Nova Scotia Association of Architects to make such inquiries about me as it considers appropriate in connection with this application for a licence and consent to any third party releasing information to the Association in connection with this application.

I further authorize the Association to disclose information about me, including, for example, copies of this form and documents submitted in this application process to other regulatory authorities and architectural registration boards.

I have read, understood, and will abide by the provisions of: a. the Architects Act; b. Regulations under the Architects Act; c. Bylaws of the Association; d. NSAA Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct; e. Provincial Building Code of Nova Scotia; and f. Builder’s Lien Act.

I understand that in order to have my licence renewed, I must meet the Continuing Education requirements approved by the Nova Scotia Association of Architects.

I understand that I have not satisfied the requirements for a licence if, in connection with this application or any past application, I have made a false or misleading representation, either because of what I have stated or what I have omitted.

I understand that if I have made a false or misleading representation my licence may be revoked.

I understand that I must maintain Professional Liability Insurance, as per section 10 of the Regulations pursuant to the Nova Scotia Architects Act, up to and including the warranty period following completion of all projects.

I understand that this Professional Liability Insurance must cover all work on projects in Nova Scotia during this time.

The answers I have given and the information I have provided is true, complete and without intent to mislead.

I have read, understood and signed this application.

I will immediately notify the Association of any changes to any of the information contained in this application.

I make this declaration conscientiously believing it to be true, and knowing that it is of the same force and effect as if made under oath and by virtue of the Canada Evidence Act.”

Summary of Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct of the AIBC and SAA

The following is a summary of the Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct from the AIBC (Architectural Institute of British Columbia) and the SAA (Saskatchewan Association of Architects) which is based on the model developed by NCARB (National Council of Architectural Registration Boards).


Regulations governing competence are based on the assumption that the end result of an architect’s services – a building – shall be fit, in all applicable regards, for its intended purposes. These rules state that:

  • architects must provide reasonable care, competence, knowledge, skill and judgement to clients and the public;
  • architects’ consultants must be similarly competent;
  • architects must not undertake to provide services beyond their personal competence.

The test of competence is if another architect, being reasonable and prudent, would have provided similar services at the same time and place. When a provincial or territorial association receives a complaint of incompetence against one of its members, it may respond through an evaluation of the architect’s services by his or her peers. If they find incompetence, then the architect could be subject to penalties imposed by the association. The aim is to protect the public from further incompetence by ensuring that the architect either raises his or her skills and services to prevailing professional standards or, failing this, stops practising.

Conflict of Interest

Architects must avoid actions and situations in which their personal interests conflict, or appear to conflict, with professional obligations to the public, the client and others. Rules about conflict of interest include the following statements.

  • An architect shall be compensated by only one party on a project, except when the other interested parties agree in writing to another arrangement.
  • An architect with a personal association or interest in a project shall disclose this in writing to the client or employer. If the client has objections, then the architect must either terminate the association or interest or offer to give up the commission or employment.
  • An architect shall not solicit or accept compensation or benefits from suppliers in return for specifying or endorsing their products, except as permitted.
  • An architect acting as an interpreter of construction contract documents and reviewing construction for conformance with the contract documents shall render decisions impartially.
  • ƒ An architect may be a project’s owner. An architect may also be the constructor of a project of the architect’s own design. In such cases, the architect shall:
    • disclose any interest in writing to the other contracting parties and the authority having jurisdiction;
    • receive their written acknowledgement;
    • provide professional services as if disinterested.
    • An architect who is a juror or advisor to an approved competition shall not subsequently provide services to the winner or, if there is no winner, receive any commission deriving from the competition.

Each architect should refer to their respective architects act for the full definition of conflict of interest.

Full Disclosure

This principle refers to an architect’s obligation to accurately represent the full truth. For example:

  • An architect shall disclose all related personal or business interests when making a public statement on an architectural issue.
  • An architect shall accurately represent to the public, prospective or existing client or employer the qualifications and scope of responsibilities in connection with work for which the architect is claiming credit.
  • If an architect becomes aware that the employer or client is acting against professional advice and violating applicable building regulations, the architect shall:
    • refuse to consent;
    • report the action to the authority having jurisdiction;
    • terminate services on the project.
  • An architect shall not knowingly make or assist others to make a false or misleading statement or omission of material fact about education, training, experience or character when applying for or renewing registration as an architect.
  • An architect who knows of an apparent violation of the architects act, bylaws, or council rulings shall report such knowledge to the association.
  • An architect who has a financial interest in a building product or device which the architect proposes to specify for a project shall disclose this to the client, receive the client’s written approval, and include a copy of the client’s approval in the construction documents.

Compliance with Laws

An architect must respect and comply with laws and regulations. For example:

  • In the practice of architecture, an architect shall not knowingly violate any law or regulation.
  • An architect shall neither offer nor make payment or gift to a public official (elected or appointed) with the intent of influencing the official’s judgement in connection with a prospective or existing project.
  • An architect shall comply with the relevant architects act and its bylaws and council rulings.
  • In the practice of architecture, an architect shall take into account all applicable federal, provincial or territorial, and municipal building bylaws and regulations. The architect may rely on the advice of other professionals and qualified persons as to the intent and meaning of such regulations.

Professional Conduct

This section includes rules based on principles that are not covered in the preceding sections, as well as rules that may not be conduct requirements in every province or territory. Examples of such conduct requirements include:

  • the supervision of an architectural office by an architect;
  • the use of the architect’s seal;
  • the prohibition of the following acts:
    • offering gifts other than of nominal value to a prospective client;
    • committing fraud or having wanton disregard for the rights of others;
    • performing any act that would reflect unfavourably on the profession;
    • falsely or maliciously injuring another architect’s reputation or business prospects;
    • attempting to supplant another architect after the other has been retained or is in the process of being retained;
    • accepting the same commission as another architect before the other has been dismissed;
  • the requirement to:
    • comply with competition rules approved by the council of the provincial or territorial association;
    • promptly distribute monies received for others;
    • comply with the provincial or territorial association’s performance standards together with appropriate fees for services.

References and Readings

Boyle, David. The Rights of Nature: A Legal Revolution That Could Save the World. ECW Press, 2017.

Boyle, David. The Environmental Rights Revolution: A Global Study of Constitutions, Human Rights, and the Environment. UBC Press, 2011.

“A Guide to Social Procurement.” Buy Social Canada. 2018,, accessed March 17, 2020.

Fisher, Thomas. The Architecture of Ethics. Routledge, 2019.

Fisher, Thomas. Ethics for Architects: 50 Dilemmas of Professional Practice. Princeton Architectural Press, 2010.

Fox, Warwick. Ethics and the Built Environment. Routledge, 2000.

Foxell, Simon. Professionalism for the Built Environment. Routledge, 2018.

Iliescu, Sanda (ed.). The Hand and the Soul: Aesthetics and Ethics in Architecture and Art. University of Virginia Press, 2009.

Morgan, Diane. Kant for Architects. Routledge, 2018.

Owen, Graham (ed.). Architecture, Ethics and Globalization. Routledge, 2009.

Ray, Nicholas. Architecture and its Ethical Dilemmas. Routledge, 2005.

Spector, Tom. The Ethical Architect: The dilemma of contemporary practice. Princeton Architectural Press, 2001.

Taylor, William M., and Michael P. Levine. Prospects for an Ethics of Architecture. Routledge, 2011.

Wasserman, Barry, Patrick Sullivan, and Gregory Palmero. Ethics and the Practice of Architecture. John Wiley and Sons, 2000.

International Documents

American Institute of Architects (AIA). 2018 Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct., accessed April 21, 2020.

“UIA Accord on Recommended International Standards of Professionalism in Architectural Practice, Amended August 2014 at the XXVI General Assembly (Durban, South Africa).” International Union of Architects (UIA),, accessed April 21, 2020.

“Guidelines for the UIA Accord Policy on Ethics and Conduct. Amended by the UIA Council held in Beirut, Lebanon, January 2011.” International Union of Architects (UIA), 2011, assets/files/media-files/UIA%20Code%20of%20Ethics-Accord_0.pdf, accessed April 21, 2020.

“Model Rules of Conduct 2018-2019.” National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB), July 2018,, accessed April 21, 2020.

“United States of America v CVP1, LLC, Downtown Manhattan Residential, LLC, Chrystie Venture Partners, LLC, Avalon Bay Communities, Inc. and SLCE Architects LLP.” Unites States District Court Southern District of New York, 1:08-cv-07194-SHS-KNF Document 52 Filed 10/15/10 Page 1 of 38,, accessed April 21, 2020.