When AIA Contract Documents celebrated their centennial in 2011, the anniversary came as a surprise to a lot of the architects, contractors, owners, and lawyers that use them as the essential legal framework for projects. In the din of that celebration at the AIA National Convention in New Orleans, as the jazz band played and revelers cut into a sheet cake that had been rolled out on the show floor, a more surprising fact emerged: The AIA’s first “Uniform Contract” between owners and contractors actually dates to 1888. Then-president Richard Morris Hunt—architect of the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal, the Great Hall of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and The Breakers in Newport, R.I.—announced the Uniform Contract at the 22nd AIA National Convention in Buffalo, N.Y., to a much smaller group of conventioneers. Nevertheless, the precedent of a formal agreement between two or more parties had been established, and architecture, like other disciplines going through the knotty process of professionalization in the 19th century, gained a greater level of legitimacy to its practitioners as well as the public.
Fast-forward 126 years and architects are in a very different place as professionals; they’ve multiplied, certainly, and they work at the center of a more complicated, collaborative process to realize a building. Oh, and they’ve now got things called “computers” which, for Hunt, probably meant nothing more than an accountant wearing a green-tinted visor and working a ledger.
Good things come in threes, and the next big surprise in this evolution is ACD5—the cloud-based service that offers access to documents anywhere at any time, complies with Mac and PC platforms, simplifies sharing and editing, offers an editable single-use document option, and enhances digital security and protection. In 1888, the AIA printed 3,800 copies of one document. Today, the AIA offers infinite copies of over 180 documents, a fact that reflects not only a more complex design and construction process, but the vital signs of a healthy profession: adaptable, collaborative, and forward-thinking.