Ethical Dilemma in Architecture and Engineering

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To what extent should efficiency be prioritized over the potential risk of human life when building a structure?

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Everyday each person goes inside a building whether it be your house, for your job, school, grocery shopping, eating, or even working out, and each year these structures collapse due to construction efficiency. 58% of multistory failures were due to construction problems and with no warning that the building is unsafe. In the structural engineering field one issue is that the structural engineers have a dead line to meet and a money budget and the engineer might not go to the engineering manager to get the math checked. These engineers go ahead with building a structure not thinking about the later consequences and the safety risk of a failing structures and harming lives. The ethical dilemma within this is that construction need to occur at specific rate while safety could be jeopardized, this is putting money or efficiency over life. This then leads to the question: to what extent should efficiency be prioritized over the potential risk of human life when building a structure?

The Importance of Following Protocol

Rules and procedures are put into place for a reason and these should never be broken even if itll cost more money or push a deadline back farther. Each engineer has and should follow the engineers code of ethics. The very first code article Fundamental Canon section one states, hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public(NSPE). This code is being violated many times because the engineers move head with build the structure without verification to move ahead which then puts the engineer’s life and others life in danger. Engineer companies have liabilities and deal with failing structures differently and how the consequences are dealt with. Most of these liabilities are put in place after a building fails not before or when building the structure. The communities affected by this issue are the structural engineers, construction workers, business people, families, and the people using the unsafe building.

Consumer and Society Perspectives

The biggest concern of a failing building is who is harmed and if there were any deaths. The families of person that died normal blame the death on the designers and construction works and want to receive money for the life they lost. The big question then begins to rise; what is the money value of life? Each life is different and theres not a specific number so this is hard to answer in court and the money value that the family wants isnt always what they receive. In terms of why an engineer would skip being checked is that if that is the lives of others being killed is less than the cost of the building then it would be alright is the building might fail. The consumers of these building want to be in the building by a certain to make money faster or be in their house to spend less money. These engineers feel the pressure to meet these deadlines problems begin to take over and some are out of the engineers control. If the material that was sent is wrong and to get the right material cost more money and would put the building time back the engineers might use the delivered material to not waste material and spend more money without getting approved.

Going back to the value of life, if someone dies due to a failing building how old they are and where the building is might refine the value. Life expectancy in each country is different meaning the value of life in each country would be different. Andorra has the highest expected life span being 82.5 years and their value will be on the higher end of value of life. In the Central African Republic, the life expectancy is only 44.5 years giving them a lower value of life (Life Expectancy). In the United States the expected lifespan is 78.75 years, back in 2012 the money value of life was but as $7 million to $9 million dollars. In 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency placed the money value at $9.1 million (Partnoy). There is an issue of setting money values onto life because it is an ethical dilemma on its own, as each agency comes up with a different number and it depends on the situation. It has been predicted that the minimum value of life of one year is $129,000. Once this is decided determining what to pay the family becomes tricky as do you pay for the life they have spent, to total value of thier life, or the part of life that they didnt experience because of their death. Ways to help determine who was in the wrong, why they did it, and much needs to be paid is the natural law theory and deontology.

Natural Law Approach

The Natural Law theory is the theory that God gave everyone natural reasoning to make ethical decisions. The law also states that live is above all importance and dont put lives in danger. This is the side the consumer and family would take as they see the collapsed building as the engineers put others’ lives in harm. When proceeding to build a structure without verification the engineer put lives in danger and that disobeys the natural law theory meaning the engineer was in the wrong. The limitations of this approach are that it shows the view of the victims so that it uses bias to get the most amount of benefit out of a court charge, and it uses religion and not every area around the world believe all in the same theory.

Deontology Approach

The deontology is when there is a relationship between ethical decisions or morality actions and duty. This means what someone did was because they that it was right and did it because it was the right thing to do. As the engineer this is the theory that they would side on. When the engineer continues to build, they arent thinking of the people they might kill because it is not a for sure situation, rather they think of it as saving money for the company by using the cheaper material and not sending back the wrong material, as well as meeting the deadlines for the business to continue the work process. After the action failed then the engineer will pay for the consequences as they did what they thought was right but failed and still are admitting their wrong doing, they arent denying that overlooking the material was not a mistake. Based off a study from 1977-2000 buildings are 30-52 percent more likely to collapse doing service not during construction, this has been increasing over time (Hadipriono, Wardhana). What this means is the engineers see nearly no danger during the time of construction, so they think they did the right thing by being more efficient.


Reconsider if efficiency should be prioritized over the potential risk of human life when building a structure, the natural law theory shows that life should be saved and not put at ask while the deontology theory states that doing what is right is the right action to take. When deciding the value of the life that was lost deontology should be used because the engineer might be at fault, but they were doing what they thought was the right thing to do at the time, they were not thinking of killing people. To avoid this ethical dilemma more laws should be put in place to prevent any construction to begin without verification from a superior. This solution will make the building process slower but to make sure the construction worker, and the consumers are safe more restrictions should be enforced.


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Ethical Dilemma In Architecture And Engineering. (2019, May 18). Retrieved January 27, 2023 , from

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