AIA Contract Documents by Synopsis

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The AIA Documents: An Introduction 

The listings in the Synopses are organized according to letter series, a system of classification that cuts across the various families and refers to the specific purpose of each document. The letter designations indicate the following:

A-Series - owner-contractor documents
B-Series - owner-architect documents
C-Series - architect-consultant documents
D-Series - architect-industry documents
E-Series - exhibits
G-Series - architect's office and project forms

The AIA Documents Synopses is a quick reference for determining the appropriate uses for each of the contract and administrative forms published by The American Institute of Architects. That purpose naturally presumes independent judgment on the reader's part, as well as advice of counsel. This introduction is intended to provide an overview for readers who are not yet familiar with the AIA documents.

There are over seventy-five AIA contract and administrative forms in print today. The ancestor of all of these was the Uniform Contract, an owner-contractor agreement, first published in 1888. This was followed, in 1911, by the AIA's first standardized general conditions for construction. The 1997 edition of AIA Document A201 is the fifteenth edition of those general conditions.

Many practices common in the construction industry today became established through their inclusion in AIA's general conditions and its other standardized documents. Arbitration, the one-year correction period and the architect's role in deciding disputes are just three of these. And while the AIA documents have had a profound influence on the industry, the influence also runs the other way. The AIA regularly revises its documents to take into account recent developments in the construction industry and the law. New standardized documents for design/build and for different types of construction management have been published in recent years, and documents for international practice are now being drafted.

The documents' relationship to the industry-influencing it, and in turn being influenced by it- is paralleled by their relationship to the law. The AIA documents are intended for nationwide use, and are not drafted to conform to the law of any one state. With that caveat, however, AIA contract documents provide a solid basis of contract provisions that are enforceable under the law existing at the time of publication. Case law on contracts for design and construction has for the past century been based largely on the language of AIA standardized documents and contracts derived from them. These court cases are listed in The American Institute of Architects Legal Citator. Recent cases are summarized, and all cases are keyed to the specific provisions in the AIA documents to which they relate.

Sample copies of many of the current AIA documents are contained in the Architect's Handbook of Professional Practice. Other material of interest in the Handbook includes commentaries on AIA Documents A201 and B141. A section entitled "The AIA Documents: An Overview" provides a useful review of the document "families." These groups of documents are coordinated to tie together the various legal and working relationships on the same project types. Documents within the same family are linked by common terminology and procedures, and may also adopt one another by reference. The relevant terms of A201, for example, are adopted by reference in A101, A111, A401, B141, B151 and C141.

The preceding paragraphs contain several references to "standardized documents," a term that covers most AIA documents. AIA standardized documents are intended to be used in their original, printed form. Much of the efficiency these documents bring to a transaction depends on their being used in this way: people with experience in the construction industry are familiar with them, and can quickly evaluate the proposed transaction based on the modifications made to the standardized document-if those modifications stand out. If modifications are blended into text of these documents that has been retyped or scanned, this advantage is lost.

The modifications themselves may be derived from another type of document published by the AIA. These are model documents, whose language is intended to be reproduced and adapted by users. One such repository of model text is A511. It is intended for use in developing supplementary conditions, an important component of the contract for construction. AIA Document B511 serves a similar purpose with respect to owner-architect agreements.