Code of Ethics

A Society of The American Institute of Architects

Code of Ethics

The AIA has a long history of requiring that its Members adhere to the highest ethical standards.

The AIA Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct

National Ethics Council
The Rules of Procedure

NEC Decisions and Advisory Opinions

Guidelines for the Attribution of Credit

Articles by Members of the National Ethics Council

Frequently Asked Questions

- Information and Resources

- Institute Bylaws [Members only]


The Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct

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The preamble to the AIA's Code of Ethics describes the principles upon which the Code of Ethics is based and includes a brief summary of the document. It provides that members of the American Institute of Architects are dedicated to the highest standards of professionalism, integrity, and competence. This Code states guidelines for the conduct of members in fulfilling those obligations. The Code is arranged in three tiers of statements: Canons, Ethical Standards, and Rules of Conduct:

Canons are broad principles of conduct.

Ethical Standards (E.S.) are more specific goals toward which members should aspire in professional performance and behavior. 

Rules of Conduct are mandatory; violation of a Rule is grounds for disciplinary action by the Institute. Rules of Conduct, in some instances, implement more than one Canon or Ethical Standard.

Commentary, which is meant to clarify or elaborate the intent of the Rule, is provided for some of the Rules of Conduct. The Code applies to the professional activities of all AIA members regardless of their membership category and is enforced by the National Ethics Council ("NEC" or "Council").

National Ethics Council

The National Ethics Council enforces the Code of Ethics and consists of seven members of the Institute who are appointed by the AIA's Board of Directors. The NEC's decisions may be appealed to the Institute's Executive Committee and, in cases where termination is the recommended penalty, are automatically appealed to the AIA's Board of Directors. In addition to enforcing the Code, the NEC also proposes revisions to the Code of Ethics and to the NEC's Rules of Procedure.

As part of its efforts to educate members about their obligations under the Code of Ethics, as well as AIA component executives and the general public about ethical issues that arise in the fields of architecture and design, the NEC conducts educational programs on ethics at the AIA's Convention, the AIA's annual Grassroots conference for component executives, and at various other seminars and programs hosted by AIA components.

The NEC meets three times a year usually in March, June, and October. The current members are:

  • Victoria E. Beach, AIA, 2012 Chair
  • Paul Davis Boney, FAIA
  • Tricia Dickson, AIA
  • Cornelius DuBois, FAIA
  • Clyde Porter, FAIA
  • Benjamin Vargas, FAIA
  • Bradford C. Walker, AIA

The Rules of Procedure

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[Download Complaint form] (MS Word/3pgs/58KB)

[Download Response form] (MS Word/2pgs/51KB)

The Rules of Procedure, which were established by the NEC under the authority of Section 8.141 of the Institute's Bylaws, govern the disposition of complaints filed with the NEC. They are divided into 10 chapters, which include a detailed description of the process for handling a complaint. The Rules of Procedure are meant to provide for the fair and expeditious disposition of cases filed with the NEC.

NEC Decisions and Advisory Opinions

View the NEC's Decisions

View Advisory Opinions

The NEC makes redacted versions of its decisions, in which the names of the parties have been removed, available to AIA Members and to the general public. It likewise makes available copies of its Advisory Opinions, which illustrate the meaning of the Code of Ethics as it may apply to a particular factual situation.

Guidelines for the Attribution of Credit

[View the Guidelines]

The giving and taking of credit in connection with work on a project is an important issue facing AIA members and the National Ethics Council. These Guidelines are for parties to use in structuring how to give attribution of credit.

Articles by Members of the National Ethics Council

Copyright in the Digital Photo Era by A. James Gersich, AIA

Are CEOs Violating the Code of Ethics & Professional Conduct? by Bill D. Smith, FAIA

Frequently Asked Questions About the Ethics Process

Can I file a Complaint against a non-AIA member?

No. The Code of Ethics applies only to members of the Institute.

Do you have to be an AIA member to file a complaint?

No. A complaint may be filed by a member, an AIA component, or anyone directly aggrieved by the conduct of a member.

Is there a timeframe in which the complaint must be filed?

Yes. The complaint must be filed within one year of the alleged violation unless good cause for a delay beyond that period is shown.

How do I initiate a complaint against an AIA member under the Code of Ethics?

To initiate a complaint, the complaining party (the "Complainant") must prepare and submit a complaint in the format of Appendix B of the Rules of Procedure. Four copies of the complaint must be filed with the NEC addressed to:

Chair, National Ethics Council
The American Institute of Architects
1735 New York Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20006

How long does it normally take for a case to be processed?

The Rules of Procedure provide for a process that is designed to be fair to both parties. Therefore, depending on the level of complexity of the issues raised by the complaint, the process could take more than a year from the time the complaint is filed until a final decision is issued by the NEC.

Does every complaint become a case?

No. The Chair reviews each properly formatted complaint to determine whether it will be dismissed or considered. If accepted for consideration, the Chair may elect to defer the usual processing of a complaint, where a legal or administrative proceeding is in process that concerns the essence of the complaint.

Does the full Council hear a complaint?

No. Initially, the Chair of the NEC designates a member of the NEC as the Hearing Officer in the case. The Hearing Officer conducts the hearing and prepares a Report and Recommendation to the NEC, which states whether he or she believes the member has violated the Code. If a violation is found, the Hearing Officer recommends a penalty.

Does the full Council decide the case?

No. After presenting his or her report and recommendation to the rest of the Council, the Hearing Officer is excused from the meeting room. The rest of the Council, each of whom has received and read the case file in its entirety, including the transcript of the Hearing, then discuss the case and determine whether a violation of the Code has been proven to have occurred, and, if so, the penalty appropriate to the violation found.

What kinds of penalties may the NEC impose if an AIA member is found in violation of the Code?

The NEC may impose four penalties:

(a) Admonition

(b) Censure

(c) Suspension of membership for a specific period of time

(d) Termination of membership

In all cases, except those where the penalty is admonition, when an accused member has been found in violation of the Code of Ethics by final action of the NEC, the Executive Committee, or the Board, a notice of discipline is published in a periodical publication of the Institute which is distributed to AIA members.

Can I get a list of AIA members who have been found in violation of the Code of Ethics?

No. Under the Rules of Procedure, all matters before the NEC are confidential. The only time the names of the parties are published is when a member has been found in violation of the Code of Ethics and the penalty imposed is censure, suspension, or termination. In that event, a report of the case appears in a publication which is distributed to AIA members but may be available elsewhere.

Are there terms used in the Code of Ethics that have a specific meaning?

Yes. The following terms are referred to in Rules 2.104 and 4.103 and have a specific meaning as noted below:

What is fraud?

In a previous NEC Decision, the Council, relying on a definition in Black’s Law Dictionary, defined “fraud” as requiring a false representation of fact, either by positive act or a concealment, involving something which should be disclosed, which deceives and is intended to deceive another so that he or she will act upon it to his or her injury. (See Black’s Law Dictionary at 594-95 (5th ed. 1979)).

What is a “statement of material fact”?

A statement of material fact is one which is essential to a consequence or outcome that impacts one of the parties to the complaint.

What is meant by “wanton disregard”?

In previous NEC Decisions, the Council has addressed the concept of “wanton disregard” and noted that in the law it is considered to be “something more than simple negligence, but something less than intentionally damaging action.” In other words, it is action taken in disregard of a high degree of danger that is apparent or would be apparent to a reasonable person. (See NEC Decisions 90-4 and 93-4.)

What is meant by “confidential”?

As used in Rule 5.303 of the AIA’s Code of Ethics, the term “confidential” describes documents and information that the member’s firm either:

(a) has a legal duty not to disclose or provide to other persons (a legal duty might be created by a contract with a client) or

(b) has a legal right (other than the mere right of ownership) to withhold from disclosing or providing to other persons.

A legal right might be created in an employment contract between the Member’s firm and the employee or might arise from the fact that the documents or information contain trade secrets, as that term is generally understood in the law.

Information and Resources

To request hard copies of the Code of Ethics, the Rules of Procedure, and the NEC's Decisions and Advisory Opinions, please contact the Office of the General Counsel, 202- 626-7311. For general questions regarding the process for filing a complaint, contact the AIA's This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. at 202/626-7593. Complaints filed with the NEC should be submitted to:

Chair, National Ethics Council
The American Institute of Architects
1735 New York Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20006