This spring, the American Institute of Architects unveiled the latest updates to its core set of documents, and the addition that has the AEC industry buzzing is the Sustainable Projects Exhibit (E204–2017). Every 10 years, the AIA updates its documents to reflect changes to the industry and set new standards for negotiations between architects, contractors, clients and consultants across the country. For this round, seasoned architects like Tracy Lea, principal at Eskew+Dumez+Ripple in New Orleans, helped AIA address changes in sustainable design. The result is a flexible, effective and deceptively simple Exhibit that can be attached to standard contracts, specifying the roles and expectations for all parties working toward a greener building.
“The 2017 documents subtly acknowledge that environmentally responsible design and construction is no longer a mysterious rarity, but rather an existential reality,” says Lea. He and more than 30 others worked to create a solution for projects with varying levels of sustainability. So, whether you are seeking LEED certification or some carefully sourced materials, this small exhibit can add big value to your project in five unique ways:
1. Easier to Understand and Use
Following the release of the 2007 editions of AIA documents, the organization wanted to reinforce its strong support for green buildings and sustainable design, so it created the Sustainable Project (SP) versions of its standard contract documents. With multiple documents trying to address a variety of sustainable situations, navigating the SP contracts unfortunately opened up the door for confusion. The SP versions of documents dealt adequately with these issues, but users were confused as to when to use these versus the standard documents. Now, instead of a set of different documents, any project can be amended with just six pages to address a specific sustainable objective, certification or documentation. “The Exhibit is more accessible because it functions as a supplement to the familiar standard forms that architects, clients and contractors (and their legal advisors) are accustomed to using,” says Lea.
2. More Protection
For many projects focused on going as green as possible, there can be a number of objectives that both client and architect want to achieve — but they are often outside of either party’s control. For rating systems, such as LEED and Energy Star, the review performed by third-party organizations can go well beyond a project’s completion. Additionally, even if these certifications are the objective, the decision to award them lies exclusively with those third parties. Lea explains that the new Exhibit was designed with specific language intended to protect architects and contractors from financial penalties when those third parties move at their own pace or come to conclusions that don’t line up with a client’s expectation.
3. Improved Communication
By combining the different complicated aspects of multiple contracts in one place, architects and contractors no longer have to create separate documents to address a wide range of concerns. “Compiling the language describing the responsibilities of all parties involved in building a sustainable project — owner, contractor and architect — into a single concise document helps clarify the role of each in the process,” says Lea. For him, the Exhibit helps everyone involved understand expectations from all sides and stay on the same page.
4. Keeping Up With Recent Legal Developments
Throughout the last 10 years, plenty of court cases have dealt with issues stemming from improperly drafted green building contracts. Many decisions affecting liability when expectations aren’t met for certifications and timelines have set a variety of new precedents. The 2007 documents couldn’t have foreseen some of these new issues, so the Exhibit was built to be as up-to-date as possible and flexible enough to adjust to any future developments.
5. Reduces Uncertainty
Those looking to have properly prepared green building documents in the past might have outsourced this task to specialists who could structure accurate contracts, and this naturally led to added costs. “When architects are executing or pursuing a project with a sustainable objective, they might not fully understand the extent of their liability and may reflexively feel the need to bring on a ‘green design’ consultant to deal with the uncertainty,” explains Lea. “By clarifying the expectations and responsibilities from all parties involved, the language in the Exhibit may help give architects and their clients a level of comfort that they are not overreaching by agreeing to be involved in a sustainable project.”
Where to Learn More
To help architects and designers better understand the SP Exhibit, the AIA is offering a free, on-demand webinar to cover the potential benefits in more detail. The AIA is also making side-by-side comparisons, sample contracts and free demos available to help spread the word about the new documents and the ways they can make designing green easier — a primary goal behind the new additions and especially the Sustainable Projects Exhibit. “If the documents can help in any way to lessen concerns about the legal and financial obstacles to building responsibly,” says Lea, “that will be a notable accomplishment.”