The History of AIA Contract Documents

Our history

The American Institute of Architects publishes nearly 200 contracts and forms that are recognized throughout the design and construction industry as the benchmark documents for managing transactions and relationships involved in construction projects. The AIA’s prominence in the field is based on 132 years of experience creating and updating its documents. The history of AIA Contract Documents dates to 1888 when the AIA first published the Uniform Contract for use between an owner and a contractor. In 1911, the AIA published its first standardized general conditions for construction. The first set of Standard Documents of the AIA  (1911) and the Second Edition of the Standard Documents (1915) may be viewed online. The 2007 edition of AIA Document A201™ is the fifteenth edition of those general conditions.


History of the AIA

AIA documents maintain a symbiotic relationship with the industry, each profoundly influencing the other. The AIA regularly revises its documents to take into account recent developments in the construction industry. Standardized documents for design-build, for different types of construction management, and for international practice have been published in recent years.

History of the documents committee

Since 1887, the AIA has relied upon a committee of experts to help draft and update its Contract Documents. From the three man Committee on the Uniform Contract of 1887 to today’s 35 design and construction industry leaders, the AIA Documents Committee has always played an integral role in the creation of AIA Contract Documents.

The AIA Documents Committee (as it has been called since the 1970s) has been a standing committee of the American Institute of Architects since its inception in 1887 as the three man Committee on the Uniform Contract. This original group, consisting of the treasurer and secretary of the Institute, drafted and published the Uniform Contract of 1888, the first standard building agreement in the United States. In 1900, the renamed Committee on Contract and Lien Laws employed legal counsel for the first time, beginning a long tradition of Documents Committee members working alongside construction attorneys to draft documents. They revised the Uniform Contract in 1893, 1902, and 1907.

In 1906, the Committee was again renamed to the Committee on Contracts and Specifications. They were tasked with developing the first General Conditions document, released in 1911 and revised in 1915 after an abundance of feedback from builders, architects, and attorneys. The Committee has never worked in a vacuum; throughout their history, they have solicited the input of various stakeholders in the construction industry, as well as independent legal counsel. The Uniform Contract was produced in conjunction with the National Association of Builders, and the standardized agreements and forms of 1911 and 1915 incorporated the input of industry groups like the Boston Society of Architects and the Master Builder’s Association.

Grosvenor Atterbury chaired the Committee on Contracts and Specifications for the years in which it developed the first set of standard documents, published in 1911.

The Committee drafted America’s first standard owner-architect agreement in 1917 and revised all of AIA’s documents in 1918. They were renamed the Committee on Contracts in 1920, and again revised the documents in 1925. For the next four decades, the Committee functioned as a three to five person body comprised of prominent architects. They released updated documents in 1937, 1951, and 1958.

In the 1960s, as the construction industry was undergoing major changes, the five person Documents Review Committee revised the AIA Contract Documents four more times, including a major reorganization in 1966. As the number and complexity of documents increased, the Committee grew to twelve members and began meeting quarterly, a practice that continues to the present. Since 1976, the AIA has revised its documents on a uniform ten year cycle (in 1977, 1987, 1997, and 2007), giving the Committee ample time between releases to solicit feedback and account for emerging trends in the construction and legal fields. The Committee has gradually added members since the 1970s and presently features 25 to 30 members from various practices, including insurance experts and legal counsel, in addition to architects from around the country.

Today, the Committee continues to draft new and revised Contract Documents.  In 2017, the updated suite of core Contract Documents for 2017 series was released . This release was the AIA’s seventeenth edition of standard documents, and marked the 130 year anniversary of the Documents Committee.