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The Liability of Architects and Engineers in Nineteenth-Century America

Carl M. Sapers and Penny Pittman Merliss
Journal of Architectural Education (1984-)
Vol. 41, No. 2 (Winter, 1988), pp. 39-45
DOI: 10.2307/1424833
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1424833
Page Count: 7
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The Liability of Architects and Engineers in Nineteenth-Century America
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Abstract

The professional architect was a scarce commodity in early-nineteenth century America. Most buildings were built by skilled housewrights, members of trades, many of whom relied on pattern books. Because such a builder was legally obligated to perform "in a workmanlike manner," i.e., to produce a structure free of defects, judges and juries believed that a builder architect should similarly guarantee his or her work. Growing private and corporate wealth created a demand for sophisticated design adequate to support a profession of architecture in America, and as professional education developed and professional associations were founded, the law began to recognize architects as professionals and to develop standards of care for architects similar to those applied to doctors and lawyers. The notion of the architect as guarantor of a defect-free building was rejected, and courts determined instead that the legal test of an architect's performance would be a test of professional judgment, not craft. To defend successfully against a claim of negligence, or to show an entitlement to collect a fee for services, the architect would have to prove not that he or she had designed a perfect building, but had acted with reasonable skill, knowledge and judgment equivalent to that generally exhibited by other members of the architectural profession.

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