Selecting the right owner-architect agreement for a commercial project

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In addition to the “flagship” contract known as B101, AIA offers several other owner-architect agreements that are critical to any commercial design project.

Choosing the right owner-architect agreement is critical to any commercial design project. This is because the agreement establishes a foundation for the contractual relationship between the owner and architect and communicates the expected design and other services that the architect will provide. Architects and owners can choose from several AIA owner-architect agreements, which suit various project delivery methods, sizes, and complexities. AIA agreements provide a time-proven and court-tested framework to discuss and negotiate key terms, including the architect’s scope of services and compensation. They are widely accepted and used in the construction industry, signifying a consensus of individuals and groups who represent the interests of architects, owners, and contractors.

The AIA Documents Committee develops AIA Contract Documents through a rigorous process that includes input from contractor organizations, owner groups, architects, legal and insurance counsel, and others involved in the construction process. AIA Contract Documents are periodically updated to reflect changes in the design and construction industry, as well as the law. As courts have tested the agreements over time, users may rely confidently on the meaning and interpretation of the contract terms. These agreements provide a solid framework for relationships among the owner, architect, contractor, and other project participants.

The “flagship” Standard Form of Agreement Between Owner and Architect is the B101, which assumes traditional design-bid-build construction procurement. As the construction industry and procurement of construction services have evolved, owners often choose to engage construction managers or similar consultants to provide specialized pre-construction services, such as cost estimating, scheduling, and constructability review. AIA Contract Documents have also been developed to address this shift in responsibility. In addition to B101, AIA offers several other owner-architect agreements. Commonly used owner-architect agreements for commercial projects and their distinguishing features include the following:

B101

B101-2017 is a standard form of agreement between the owner and architect for building design and construction phase services and includes the architect’s responsibility for cost estimating and project scheduling. B101 also includes services to assist the owner in bidding or in obtaining negotiated proposals from contractors during procurement. The services are divided into basic, supplemental, and additional. Basic services are performed in five phases: Schematic Design, Design Development, Construction Documents, Procurement, and Construction Contract Administration. Supplemental services are identified as the architect’s responsibility at the time the agreement is executed, while additional services are defined as those that arise as the project proceeds.

B103

B103-2017, the Standard Form of Agreement Between Owner and Architect for a Complex Project, is similar to B101; for example, the basic services of B103 are performed in the same five phases as those described in the B101. However, B103 differs from B101 in a couple of ways. One is that B103 assumes that the owner will retain third parties to provide cost estimates and project scheduling services during the design phases. B103 also anticipates that the owner may implement fast-track, phased, or accelerated construction scheduling.

B132

B132-2009, the Standard Form of Agreement Between Owner and Architect, Construction Manager as Adviser Edition, is similar to B103, except that it specifically assumes that the owner will retain a construction manager to provide cost estimating, project scheduling, and other services during design. B132 envisions that the architect will collaborate with the construction manager during the design phases and assist the owner and construction manager in bidding or obtaining negotiated proposals for construction. During the Construction phase, the architect performs most of the traditional services set forth in B101 and B103; however, in many instances, such as review of submittals or payment applications, the responsibility is shared with the construction manager.

B133

B133-2014, the Standard Form of Agreement Between Owner and Architect, Construction Manager as Constructor Edition, is also like B103, except that—like the B132—it specifically assumes that the owner will retain a construction manager to provide cost estimating, project scheduling, and other services during design. Unlike B132, B133 does not include a bidding or negotiation phase because the construction manager is assumed to be constructing the project. During the Construction phase, the architect provides services in line with B101 and B103.

When selecting an agreement for a project, consider the method by which cost estimating and scheduling tasks are to be accomplished. If a project will follow the traditional method of assigning these tasks to the architect, and procurement is through bidding or negotiation, B101 is appropriate. However, if the owner will engage a consultant to provide cost estimating and scheduling services during design, and procurement will be through bidding or negotiation, B103 provides terms that are more precisely tailored to this circumstance. B132 provides an optional choice where the owner has engaged a construction manager for pre-construction and construction phase services but still intends to bid or negotiate the construction contract after design. If a general contractor is acting as the construction manager and will build the project, B133 is the form to consider.

These documents can be purchased in electronic format on aiacontracts.org. The electronic format makes editing easy by clearly showing the changes made and producing a professional final document. These editing conventions serve two important purposes. First, they save a great deal of time and effort by eliminating searches for revisions line-by-line, word-for-word. This allows the parties to focus on the meaning and impact of the changes. Second, the editing conventions promote open communication and trust. All standard agreements can—and should—be modified to fit the circumstances of a particular project, as well as the needs of the architect and the owner.

Choosing the most appropriate AIA agreement at the beginning of a project simplifies contract drafting and provides a solid basis for communication between the architect and owner.

Wolf Saar, FAIA, is managing director at VIA Architecture and a member of AIA National's Contract Documents Committee.

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