Temperance at Work: Our Virtues (Series 02)

by Jul 9, 2021Stories To Live By

The suspended step treads of the main staircase. For more photos and write-ups, CLICK HERE.

[The following is an extract from a Talk I gave at the UAP-MCB District Chapter’s Built Environment Conference 2020 (Lecture Series 6) on the 2ND of February, Manila, Philippines, with the topic “Business Development Strategies For Architecture Firms: How To Sell Your Design Practice”.]

Temperance — nope, not about alcohol or prohibition — but as a virtue in the work environment. There definitely are other situations where temperance can exist and the architectural practice is definitely one.

Temperance in its modern use is the moderation or voluntary self-restraint. It is typically defined in terms of what an individual voluntarily refrains from doing and has been described as a virtue by theological thinkers, philosophers, and more recently, psychologists particularly in the positive psychology movement.

When my elder brother purchased an existing house in a moderate up-scale subdivision in Manila, we undertook the major design renovations.

The corner plot of land was triangular in shape and as architects, to our dismay the house was fully extended on 2 sides, maximizing the land, such that room windows were literally side-by-side with the sidewalk and the street thereafter.

The original designer surely allowed himself to be so “creative” especially when it came to building with no regulations.

Surprisingly, we had in our hands a certified true copy of the very existing structure’s approved building plans. Hence, all we had to do was to submit to the village housing association our proposed renovations — just for the interiors — for approval to commence work.

But we didn’t.

So though my brother would lose a sizable amount of built-up area, I convinced him that we have to reinstate all the standard setbacks. Yes, you heard it right — shrink back the structure in compliance with the standard building codes.

Most decent people would agree that we were virtuous enough to do what was right. But, the thing is, we didn’t have to. We could have gotten away with violating the law and worst — misguiding my brother to believe the structure was in accordance to bye-laws.

Let alone the possible issues that may arise later on, we could have easily ignored the situation and swept it under the rug. Had we done so, I have little doubt that we would ever be caught or questioned and I would have saved thousands of additional cost for my brother.

But by complying with the law, even when we did not have to, we were exercising the cardinal virtue of temperance — self-restraint, self-regulation — a habit of moral excellence that should be a vital prerequisite to ethical architectural practice.

Today, with the awesome contributions of his wonderful gifted green-thumb wife, my brother and his family enjoy roofed patios complimented by beautiful lush gardens surrounding their house.

Some of us siblings, and my brother at his new home, enjoying a pleasant time of catching up with one another at the patio garden which was once a chamber. The square openings on the now fence wall were formerly bedroom windows.

Architecture and Rhetoric Builders of Human Maturity and Temperance.

Another classic example of temperance as well as solid integrity is a house I did for a biracial couple residing in KL — the hubby a Swiss and his Eurasian wife.

At that time, I still did not have an associate structural engineer to work with, so I crafted the main contract requiring the contractor to engage his own engineer to design and endorse the required structural plans.

The contractor did exactly as required and I met his engineer whose designs complied with our architectural requirements.

The design required for 2 staircases and when the main staircase was being constructed, this is when the problem arose.

The staircase called for cantilevered suspended stair treads anchored to a structural concrete beam concealed within the walls. It required for steel bars and plates properly welded and anchored into the beam. The contractor instead insidiously installed a tubular steel beam and simply welded the steel bars unto its flange face.

Without a doubt, his own appointed engineer rejected the work, notified the client in writing, and wrote to me that he would recommend stoppage of work or would resign himself from the project if his employer, the contractor, would not comply and follow his structural designs and specifications.

In short, the contractor’s own engineer ‘bit the hand that fed him’.

On those grounds, we eventually terminated the contractor but the client requested his engineer to stay on the project until completion.

Ir. Krishnakumar, a sincere, genuine, and true-to-heart engineer is a “true” person I have never ever met before. Since then he has been my consulting structural and civil engineer for all succeeding projects until this very day.

It’s being able to deny ourselves the distractions that get in the way of our path to success that drives us forward in a positive way. Having self-control and integrity allows you to delay gratification and profit today as a trade-off for greater long-term success.

Self-denial, self-control, self-discipline — characteristics of a professional that practices temperance.

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