Born 15 December 1792, at Gundenham, near Taunton, Somerset, England, Haviland was apprenticed in 1811 to a London architect. in 1815 he went on to unsuccessfully pursue an appointment to the Russian Imperial Corps of Engineers. While in Russia, however, he met George von Sonntag and John Quincy Adams, who encouraged Haviland to work in the United States. He arrived in Philadelphia in 1816 and soon established himself as one of the few professional architects in the city.
By 1818 Haviland produced a book: "Builder's Assistant", which appeared in three volumes over several years. This publication was one of the earliest architectural pattern books written and published in North America, and likely the first to include Greek and Roman classical orders.
In part due to "The Builder's Assistant", Haviland began to secure what would be his most important commissions in Philadelphia including the Eastern State Penitentiary, the Pennsylvania Institution for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb (now Dorrance Hamilton Hall for Philadelphia’s University of the Arts (Philadelphia)) and the original Franklin Institute building, (now housing Atwater Kent Museum of Philadelphia).
During this time, Haviland unwisely speculated in his own projects, including commercial arcades in Philadelphia and New York as well as an amusement park. He was eventually forced into bankruptcy, tarnishing his professional reputation in Philadelphia. Elsewhere, however, Haviland's reputation as a designer of prisons brought him important commissions including the New Jersey Penitentiary, The Tombs in New York City, and designs for prisons in Missouri, Rhode Island, and Arkansas.
Haviland was an Honorary and Corresponding Member of the Royal Institute of British Architects. Haviland died March 28, 1852 in Philadelphia and was buried in the family vault at St. Andrews Church in Philadelphia.