What all architects need to know about materials transparency

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A new white paper from the AIA offers five important insights into the transparency process

Whether in politics or in building design, transparency is an increasingly necessary element of modern life. We want to know who people are, or where products come from, before proceeding with future-altering decisions. And when it comes to our materials, the resources that make up our built environment, it's more important than ever to communicate openly about what's inside.

With that in mind, the AIA's Materials Knowledge Working Group presents Materials transparency & risk for architects: An introduction to advancing professional ethics while managing professional liability risks. This white paper is created by materials specialists but aimed at all architects, providing a backdrop on the necessity for materials transparency and the steps to take to ensure change, promote openness, and increase collaboration between suppliers, architects, and clients.

As an introduction to the white paper, the Materials Knowledge Working Group has compiled five things that every architect should know about the transparency process. They're a first step in a deeper understanding as to what will go into your building and how it will impact the inhabitants.

  • Transparency is the new normal. There is a growing expectation that everyone involved in a building project—from initial design to occupancy—should have access to information on the potential health and environmental impacts relating to those products.
  • Materials transparency represents opportunities for architects. These opportunities include competitive advantage, thought leadership, design innovation, and environmental and human health leadership.
  • New practices and procedures inherently present potential risks. We accept that there is some risk in advocating for materials transparency and sharing composition information with our clients. This white paper explores those risks in detail.
  • It will be important to manage potential risks with increased transparency. Although the risks associated with materials transparency are new, architects are familiar with risk management. This white paper offers several strategies for effectively evaluating and mitigating risk.
  • The AIA has tools and resources to help architects navigate materials transparency risks and opportunities. Along with this white paper and existing online resources, the AIA published new model contract language to specifically address materials transparency issues. In addition, our Working Group— made up of expert members, practitioners, and partner organizations— is continuously developing education and practice tools to help architects optimize their approach to materials transparency.

The full white paper is now available for download. For more of the AIA's resources on this topic, visit aia.org/materials; the AIA has also published guidance on how to address materials transparency issues in its contract document B503-2007 Guide for Amendments to AIA Owner-Architect Agreements.

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