September 18, 2009
  Member Suspended for Violating AIA Code of Ethics

Summary: The National Ethics Council (“Council”) has suspended the membership of Donald G. Briggs, AIA, for two years for violating Rule 1.101 and Rule 3.201 of the Institute’s Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct (“Code of Ethics”).

Rule 1.101 states:

In practicing architecture, Members shall demonstrate a consistent pattern of reasonable care and competence, and shall apply the technical knowledge and skill which is ordinarily applied by architects of good standing practicing in the same locality.

Rule 3.201 states:

A Member shall not render professional services if the Member’s professional judgment could be affected by responsibilities to another project or person, or by the Member’s own interests, unless all those who rely on the Member’s judgment consent after full disclosure.

The Complainant and his wife retained Mr. Briggs’s firm to design a new home for their retirement. They informed Mr. Briggs that they wanted a home of approximately 3,500 square feet, a construction cost of about $500,000 or less, and a completion date within 10 months. When Mr. Briggs presented an initial schematic design of more than 7,000 square feet, the Complainant requested reductions. During the following month, Mr. Briggs presented additional schematic designs, each of which contained more than 6,300 square feet of enclosed living area. The initial construction cost estimates, which were provided by the project’s general contractor hired by the Complainant, exceeded $800,000. The Complainant repeated his request that cuts be made and understood that Mr. Briggs would redesign the house so that it could be built for the Complainant’s increased budget of $700,000.

As design work progressed, Mr. Briggs and his firm communicated primarily with the Complainant’s wife and not the Complainant. Construction began based on preliminary plans provided by the firm. Final construction drawings were completed more than four months later, which was subsequent to the originally requested completion date for the project.

Prior to the completion of the foundations and more than three months before the drawings were completed, Mr. Briggs had begun a romantic relationship with the Complainant’s wife. Mr. Briggs continued to work and bill on the project and never disclosed the affair to the Complainant. The Complainant learned of the affair about three months after construction had begun. He and his wife separated and subsequently divorced, he retained ownership of and financial responsibility for the project, and he terminated Mr. Briggs’s involvement in the project. The home ultimately cost more than $1 million to construct and contains more than 6,000 square feet of living area plus more than 2,000 square feet of porches and a detached garage of more than 1,100 square feet.

The National Ethics Council ruled that Mr. Briggs violated Rule 1.101 of the Code of Ethics by designing a home far in excess of the written objectives of his clients and by failing to confirm that the Complainant, as well as his wife, had agreed to revise his objectives for scope, budget, and schedule. The Council concluded that this conduct constitutes a failure to demonstrate a consistent pattern of reasonable care and competence in the delivery of services and a failure to apply the technical knowledge and skill which is ordinarily applied by architects of good standing doing similar projects. The Council noted that, in light of Mr. Briggs’s personal relationship with the Complainant’s wife, he cannot justify his decisions on the project as having been made in response to directions that she alone gave.

The Council also ruled that Mr. Briggs violated Rule 3.201 because, although his personal relationship with the Complainant’s wife certainly could have affected his professional judgment while rendering professional services, he did not disclose his conflict or resign from the project.

The Council imposed the penalty of a two-year suspension of membership on Mr. Briggs.

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