AIA Contract Documents

Architects are very familiar with contracts and agreements between parties.They also know the importance of protecting themselves and their employees if a dispute arises. After nearly 125 years, AIA Contract Documents are the industry standard.

Professionals know that to run successful projects, they need a set of legally binding guidelines in the form of agreements spelled out in a detailed manner so that anyone involved in a project is fully and unquestionably aware of where the responsibilities lie. In1888, just 31years after the American Institute of Architects was founded, the first AIA Contract Document was published. Over the years, contracts were added and adjusted as the construction industry grew.

Today, AIA Contract Documents exist with a few basic goals in mind:

  • To create standardized documents for national use
  • To provide documents that are balanced and fair and provide equitable risk allocation
  • Documents that conform to common and statutory law
  • Agreements that clearly define duties and responsibilities of all parties
  • To best reflect industry practices

According to Jim Anstis, FAIA, former Contract Documents committee member, "The basic principle underlying the development of AJA Contract Documents is to fairly apportion risk among the parties involved in a project. Individual responsibility and the authority to carry out each responsibility are conferred upon each party concomitantly with the responsibility. Risk flows along with responsibility to the appropriate party."

The AIA has grouped contracts according to either series or family. "Series" refers to the alphanumeric method of arranging documents such as A101 through A751, B101 through B305 and so on. Conversely, contracts by "family" are arranged based on the parties involved.

According to the AIA, the most recognized member of a document "family" is the Conventional Family which "may be appropriate when the owner's project is divided into separate contracts with an architect for design and one or more contractors for construction. These documents are suitable for the conventional delivery approach of design-bid-build on any size project."

Another AIA Document Family is Integrated Project Delivery (IPD). As noted on the AIA website, "Integrated project delivery (IPD) is a collaborative approach that utilizes the talents and insights of all project participants through all phases of design and construction. The AIA provides agreements for three levels of integrated project delivery. Transitional Forms are modeled after existing construction manager agreements and offer a comfortable first step into integrated project delivery. The Multi­Party Agreement is a single agreement that the parties can use to design and construct a project utilizing integrated project delivery. The Single Purpose Entity (SPE) creates a limited liability company for the purpose of planning, designing and constructing the project. The SPE allows for complete sharing of risk and reward in a fully integrated collaborative process. AIA documents for IPD can be used on large private sector commercial projects."

Who are the wizards ultimately responsible for maintaining the relevant and important legal information in AIA Contract Documents? They are architects, construction attorneys, owners and contractors appointed to the AIA Contract Documents Committee. This committee of 20-30 individuals meets roughly four times per year and members commit to serving a 10-year term.

"My service on the AIA Contracts Documents Committee gave me a deep appreciation for the objectivity of the process and the dedication of the committee," says Anstis. "The process involves concentrated effort over a long period of time." The procedure for developing contract language is detailed and comprehensive, resulting in language that is reflective of case law as well as construction industry consensus of responsibility and risk.

AIA Contract Documents are reviewed and generally updated every 10 years. New documents might emerge before this benchmark, and some eventually meet their demise, but the standard is to review and update information to maintain relevancy of the contracts.


AIA has several resources available to contract users including reference guides, commentaries and contract comparisons, diagrams of relationships between parties and a list of amendments and supplementary conditions for document families. In addition, there are articles related to AIA Contract Documents such as the 2007 Revisions, Digital Practice and Sustainability. Articles provide insight and knowledge and they help position architects to be project leaders.

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