Reconsidering the Ethics of Transparency- 2009

Architecture’s vast scope, as both an individual and a societal art, necessitates that any paper pondering its ethics take a broad view. The wide-ranging nature of architectural expression means nearly any principled stance is possible, and this diversity is being played out by the multiplicity of ethics engendered by digital design and fabrication. Such ethics can be rooted in environmental concerns like construction waste reduction, green materials and energy efficiency, or in politics as was the case with Daniel Libeskind’s denouncement of architects working in Bejing, Thom Mayne’s more moderate view that commissions are “complicated”, or Robert A.M. Stern’s shrugging response that he was an architect, not a politician.1    However, what often goes unexpressed by these stances is a position grounded from within design, proper. Our lack of inherent  ethic is understandable since design-based ethics were run aground during the post-modern deconstruction of ‘truth’ in architecture. This paper acknowledges the real effects of these circumstances, but it also contemplates the continued possibility of an ethic that stems from within design. Principles rooted within design need not be so cynical as Peter Eisenman was when he said, “The more centralized the power, the less compromises need to be made  in architecture.”2   Instead this paper looks back at the belief in transparent expression as an architectural ethic, and asks whether such a design-based principle went awry not because it was ‘wrong’ but because architects were focused on the objects of their creation rather than their creative processes; on what got transparently rendered, rather how their processes could be made transparent. The digital revolution in architecture suggests that a transparent process may be the most profound ethic that can emerge from within design.   Nick Senske-, University of North Carolina Charlotte