Ethics after theory

CHAN Kok Hui, Jeffrey Jeffrey


Today, architectural theory has atrophied. Despite a perceived need for different theoretical ways of clarifying, explaining and understanding the complex phenomena of contemporary architectural production prior to a designer’s intervention, there are few existing theoretical frameworks. Without either the descriptive or projective enablement by theory, conscientious and critical practices in architecture will have few alternatives against the tide of neoliberal city-making. In this paper, I make a pun of Speaks’s (2006) paper titled, ‘Intelligence after theory’ by arguing that while (design) intelligence is necessary, it is however not sufficient. Ethics is also needed in architecture. Through a brief restatement of a canonical debate in the critical school of architectural theory, I argue why ethics is needed in architecture, and how ethics could be further developed through theory and theorization.


ethics; contemporary architecture; architectural theory; design intelligence

Full Text:



Applbaum, A. I. (1999). Ethics for adversaries: The morality of roles in public and professional life. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Awan, N., Schneider, T. & Till, J. (2011). Spatial agency: Other ways of doing architecture. New York: Routledge.

Baird, G. (2004). “Criticality” and its discontents. Harvard Design Magazine, no.21, F/W 2004. Retrieved September 14, 2016, from,

Barnard, C. I. (1968). The functions of the executive. Thirtieth Anniversary Edition. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Blake, P. (1976). The master builders: Le Corbusier, Mies Van Der Rohe, Frank Lloyd Wright. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Boyer, E. L. & Mitgang, L. D. (1996). Building community: A new future for architectural education and practice. Princeton: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Chan, J. K. H. (2015). Moral agency in architecture? The dialectics of spatializing morality and moralizing spaces. In A. L. Muller & W. Reichmann (Eds.), Architecture, Materiality and Society: Connecting Sociology of Architecture with Science and Technology Studies (pp. 198-214). UK: Palgrave-Macmillan.

Damon, W. & Colby, A. (2015). The power of ideals: The real story of moral choice. New York: Oxford University Press.

Deamer, P. (2015). Introduction. In P. Deamer (Ed.), The Architect as Worker: Immaterial Labor, the Creative Class, and the Politics of Design (pp. xxvii-xxxvi). New York: Bloomsbury.

Doris, J. M. (2003). Lack of character: Personality and moral behavior. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Dunlap, D. W. (2016). A Shopping Mall at Ground Zero, Uninformed by Its Sacred Land. The New York Times, September 5, 2016. Retrieved September 14, 2016, from,

Evans, R. (1982). The fabrication of virtue: English prison architecture, 1750-1840. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Fisher, S. (2000). How to think about the ethics of architecture. In W. Fox (Ed.), Ethics and the Built Environment (pp. 170-182). New York: Routledge.

Fisher, T. (2010). Ethics for architects: 50 dilemmas of professional practice. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.

Gardner, H. (2000). The Disciplined Mind: Beyond facts and standardized tests, the K-12 education that every child deserves. New York: Penguin.

Goodman, R. (1971). After the planners. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Harries, K. (2010). The responsibility of architectural design. In N. Temple, S. Bandyopadhyay, J. Lomholt & R. Tobe (Eds.), The Humanities in architectural design: A contemporary and historical perspective (pp. 7-15). New York: Routledge.

Harvey, D. (2014). The crisis of planetary urbanization. Post, November 18, 2014. Retrieved September 14, 2016, from,

Hays, K. M. (1998). Introduction. In K. M. Hays (Ed.), Architecture Theory since 1968 (pp. x-xv). Cambridge: MIT Press.

Hays, K. M. (2010). Architecture’s Desire: Reading the late avant-garde. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Hight, C. (2009). Meeting the new boss: After the Death of Theory. Architectural Design, 79, 40-45.

Huxtable, A. L. (2001). ‘The New York Process’. Wall Street Journal, September 17, 2001. Retrieved September 14, 2016, from,

Lang, J. (1987). Creating architectural theory. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.

Lavin, S. (1990). The uses and abuses of theory. Progressive Architecture, 71, 113-114, 179.

Lucan, J. (2012). Composition, Non-Composition: Architecture and theory in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Lausanne: EPFL.

Jameson, F. (1985). Architecture and the critique of ideology. In J. Ockman (Ed.), Architecture, Criticism, Ideology (pp. 51-87). Princeton: Princeton Architectural Press.

Martin, L. (2012). History, Theory, Criticism: The development of an intellectual discourse. In J. Ockman (Ed.), Architecture School: Three Centuries of Educating Architects in North America (pp. 336-346). Cambridge: MIT Press.

Martin, R. (2011). Occupy: What Architecture Can Do. Places Journal, November, 2011. Retrieved September 14, 2016, from,

Mayer, M. (2010). Social Movements in the (Post-)Neoliberal City. London: Bedford Press.

McNeill, D. (2009). The global architect: Firms, fame and urban form. New York: Routledge.

Medina, S. (2015). How we design inequality. Metropolis Magazine, November 2015. Retrieved September 14, 2016, from,

Moran, S. (2014). Introduction: The crossroads of Creativity and Ethics. In S. Moran, D. Copley & J. C. Kaufman (Eds.), The Ethics of Creativity (pp. 1-22). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Mugerauer, R. & Manzo, L. (2008). Environmental dilemmas: ethical decision making. Lanham: Lexington Books.

Pine, B. J. & Gilmore, J. H. (2011). The experience economy, updated edition. Boston: Harvard Business Review Press.

Relph, E. C. (1996). Reflections on Place and Placelessness. Retrieved September 14, 2016, from,

Saint, A. (2005). Practical wisdom for architects: The uses of ethics. In N. Ray (Ed.), Architecture and its Ethical Dilemmas (pp. 7-22). London: Taylor & Francis.

Sanchez, R. & Field, A. (2015). What’s life like in Supermax prison? CNN, June 26, 2015. Retrieved September 14, 2016, from,

Schrijver, L. (2015). Design for values in architecture. In J. van den Hoven, P. E. Vermaas, I. van de Poel (Eds.), Handbook of ethics, values, and technological design: Sources, Theory, Values and Application Domains (pp. 589-611). New York: Springer-Dordrecht.

Schull, N. D. (2012). Addiction by design: Machine gambling in Las Vegas. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Schumacher, P. (2016). Where is the Architecture? Appraisal of the Venice Architecture Biennale 2016. Retrieved September 14, 2016, from,

Scott, G. (1980). The architecture of humanism: A study in the history of taste. UK: Architectural Press.

Somol, R. & Whiting, S. (2002). Notes around the Doppler Effect and other moods of Modernism. Perspecta, 33, 72-77.

Speaks, M. (2002). Design Intelligence. Part 1: Introduction. A+U: Architecture and Urbanism, 12(387), pp. 10-18.

Speaks, M. (2005). After theory. Architectural Record, June 2005, 72-75.

Speaks, M. (2006). Intelligence after theory. Perspecta, 38, 101-106.

Sperry, R. (2014). Architects and torture: What color is your waterboard? CNN, December 23, 2014. Retrieved September 14, 2016, from,

Taylor, W. M. & Levine, M. P. (2011). Prospects for an ethics of architecture. New York: Routledge.

Till, J. (2009). Architecture depends. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Wainwright, O. (2016). Alejandro Aravena’s Venice architecture biennale: ‘We can’t forget beauty in our battles’. The Guardian, May 26, 2016. Retrieved September 14, 2016, from,

Wolgast, E. (1992). Ethics of an artificial person. Stanford: Stanford University Press.



  • There are currently no refbacks.

View my Stat: Click Here

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.