Firm management

A Shared Vision Shapes Developer/Architect Relationship

By AIA Contract Documents

The Fox & Finch – South Lake Union’s boutique apartments designed by VIA Architecture.

As part of the renaissance of the South Lake Union neighborhood of Seattle, Washington, the Fox & Finch multifamily community is a hotspot for urban living from its rooftop gardens to its proximity and ease of access to urban amenities. The 49-unit, 7-story complex developed by Los Angeles-based Wilshire Capital, is designed to actively engage residents and neighbors.

The community feel is an essential element of the design and a reflection of the close working partnership that was formed to deliver the project.

Turning concept into reality

VIA Architecture, a premier architectural and urban planning firm with offices in Seattle, Oakland, and Vancouver, BC, first learned of the Fox & Finch project from a local contractor who thought it might be a good fit for their firm.

“I made a call to the developer to introduce our firm and was happy to hear that they knew of our work. They had just toured one of our projects in downtown [Seattle] and told us that they were quite impressed,” says Wolf Saar, Managing Principal at VIA Architecture. “It was the beginning of a strong relationship as we discussed their plans to expand into the Seattle area.”

Of the many standardized contract documents available to them, VIA generally chooses the B101, Standard Form of Agreement Between Owner and Architect or B103, Standard Form of Agreement Between Owner and Architect for a Complex Project and the Fox & Finch project was no exception. “These documents give us a good basis for discussion and in this case, the client was familiar with the contracts. Using that platform, we negotiated modifications including limits of liability and alteration of some of the professional clauses,” says Saar.

One of the more important considerations for VIA is aligning the agreements with their insurance coverage.

Contractual connections

Building envelopes for multifamily projects are often complex. Water infiltration issues need to be addressed to protect the structure. Accessibility and good acoustics also tend to be major issues for owners and tenants. According to Saar, these three items are often targets for liability claims, so even with the best of design practices, insurance coverage is vital.

The other benefit of AIA documents is ownership assignment of the project documents and protection of intellectual property. For VIA, it is important to retain the copyright to their work until the design is completed and full payment has been received.

In addition to owner/architect agreements, VIA uses the C401, Standard Form of Agreement Between Architect and Consultant. Provisions that are initiated in the architect/owner agreements are carried on in the flowdown of contracts to all subsequent consultants, including the structural, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing design engineers.

“If a consultant proposes its own form of agreement, often an independent letter agreement, it can be attached to the C401 form as an exhibit. In these cases, a statement is included that establishes that the C401 terms will supersede those in the consultant’s form. We use the C401 for private and public projects. It’s just a very universal document,” says Saar.

The team used the B101-Owner/Architect and C401-Architect/Consultant agreements.

Purposeful design

For Fox & Finch, the developer wanted to focus on small living spaces with 2,200 square feet of retail/restaurant on the ground floor and residential amenities including a fitness area, bicycle service and storage area, basement level lounge, and rooftop recreation deck with views of Lake Union. Fitting all of this along with 49 units on a small site presented some challenging design considerations.


“The property was bordered by a public plaza on one side, but the other side faced a neighboring building. There wasn’t an option for setback so we proposed placing all services, elevators and stairs near the property line. This freed up the other three sides of the proposed building for living spaces with enviable views of the plaza and neighborhood,” explains Saar.

Construction costs can make or break a project, so VIA is always mindful of budget. For Fox & Finch, the architect proposed retaining the basement of the existing building on the site that was to be demolished, and using the existing walls as shoring and incorporating them into the foundation for the new structure, reducing the construction time and materials.

The resulting proposal, a building design that respected the context of the neighborhood, maximized use of the property, and respected cost, was approved by the client and the project moved into documentation, permitting and construction.

Construction coordination

Wilshire Capital consulted with VIA on picking the appropriate consultants for the project. This allowed VIA to recommend some highly-regarded partners, with whom they’ve built familiarity and trust over many long years delivering projects in the Seattle area. The plan was to contract the subconsultants through the architect, allowing VIA to follow the standard flow of agreements for all parties.

Sometimes, the architect has an agreement with the owner while the structural engineer has their own separate agreement. In fact, all sub consultants could contract directly with the owner. In the end, however, the architect is responsible for coordination and the contract documents provide a roadmap for construction. With the documents, the contractor has a chain of command for any questions that arise in the field and the design professional is involved all the way through the project.

Saar says, “Contractors are generally our greatest advocates. They want the design professional available for information and involved in the construction phase. Otherwise, there is a greater potential for delays and cost impacts as contractors attempt to understand original design intents and figure out solutions to any issues that may arise in the field.”

Whether the agreement between the architect and owner specifies a stipulated sum, cost plus fee, or some other manner of payment, it is important to all parties that the design professional is incentivized to stay involved through construction and closeout documents. “Responding to RFIs can take up a substantial portion of the project timeline, and the architect has to be prepared or this,” adds Saar.

Energy efficient

The Fox & Finch building was completed in 2017, to the pride of VIA and the developer.

Saar concludes, “The taut design of the exterior maximizes glazing, a key consideration when designing compact urban living spaces, while meeting Seattle’s stringent energy code standards. The fact that we were able to reuse elements of the previous building while delivering a distinctive and elegant design was huge, and something we’re very proud of.”

The Fox & Finch project has facilitated the establishment of an ongoing relationship with Wilshire Capital and has led to the creation of several other landmark multi-family projects in the South Lake Union neighborhood.