Collaboration At the Very Beginning

Feb. 7, 2002

Project success – short- and long-term – is all about relationships, a situation that Ann Rackas, managing director, AIA Contract Documents, for Washington, D.C.-based American Institute of Architects (AIA), appreciates. With an almost 20-year career spent as an owner’s rep, both in the public and private sectors, Rackas says, “It takes so many different people to put a project together that it is all about relationships and working with people.”

In 1888, the AIA published its first contract document for use between an owner and a contractor. Others soon followed. Today, over 100 years after that initial Uniform Contract, more than 75 contracts and administrative forms are available from the AIA, in both print and electronic versions.

Although well-known for their substantial size, the AIA Contract Documents’ relationship to the industry – influencing it, and in turn being influenced by it – is paralleled by their relationship to the law. Historically, case law on contracts for design and construction has been based largely on the language of AIA standardized documents and contracts derived from them.

That’s why Rackas’ goal is exciting to the owner/manager end of the buildings industry.

“In March, we’ll be bringing more people in to the process, into the development and the drafting of the contract documents,” she says, noting that a lot of diversity already exists on the Contract Documents committee. “There are owner’s reps, there are contractors, there are attorneys on the documents committee, and I want to only increase that diversity even more, as much as I can,” she explains.

Her primary message, “not just to owners but to their attorneys and to contractors and anyone outside of the architect community is that, yes, these documents have the AIA logo and the AIA name on them, but we truly try to be as centered as possible to address all the different parties in the building industry. I’ve heard one owner’s attorney describe the AIA as the ‘Ivory Tower,’ and I want to demystify that and encourage and invite people to come into the process.”

At this time, Rackas is concentrating on two primary areas: putting together an owner advisory board (with the first collaboration due in March), and working with the American Bar Association Construction Forum’s Contract Documents Division and its Owners and Lenders Division to bring owners’ attorneys into the process.

When asked if there is a question she might offer the readers of Buildings magazine, Rackas says, “Probably one of the primary issues that I’d like feedback on [is about modifying documents.] We have standard documents, and a lot of people think they can’t be modified because they’re fill-in-the blank standard contracts. But, yes, they can be modified. Language can be struck out and language can be added at the end. What makes them standard is that those changes show – so the transaction costs are minimized.

“My question is ‘Just how much modification occurs to the document, and what sort of ease of modification would owners and contractors and design professionals like to see infthe documents?’”

Readers? Here’s an opportunity to explain your practices to forward this thinking, as well as learn more about the owner advisory board and the AIA Contract Documents program. Rackas is very committed to the process of collaboration. Contact her by e-mail at ([email protected]).

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