Founded in 1857, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) has evolved into the largest advocacy organization for design professionals in the nation today. The Washington, D.C.–based institute offers education, government advocacy, community redevelopment, and public outreach for its more than 79,000 members, including a large percentage of small firms and sole proprietorships.
“Many of the services we provide really benefit small firms as they don’t have the wherewithal to afford some of the resources that large firms have in-house,” says Kyle McAdams, AIA, managing director of marketing and business development for the AIA. “One of the things we offer is AIA Contract Documents. While we recommend that any firm seek legal advice from a lawyer, most small firms don’t have a legal staff on retainer. Our contract documents are drafted by experts in the legal, insurance, design, and construction fields to offer standard, easy-to-complete, and widely accepted forms and agreements that address a wide range of different approaches to design and construction for both architects and general contractors.”
The AIA Contract Documents team is currently finalizing a new document, the Guide to AIA Contract Documents for Small Projects: Resources for Small Project Practitioners, Sole Practitioners, and Custom Residential Architects.
“It’s important that small firms use well-written contracts for small projects,” McAdams says. “I’ve seen many small firms that use only a homegrown two-pager for small projects. While that approach may be expedient, it can too often leave parties at risk of misunderstandings and divergent expectations with regard to terms, scope, payment, obligations, and other key elements of consideration and performance. We’re creating this guide to provide information about resources that are available free of charge to assist the small-project practitioner and to help them better understand the AIA Contract Documents that are available and tailored to the types of projects that they may be undertaking.”
The guide was unveiled at this year’s AIA National Convention and Design Exposition June 20–22 in Denver and is now provided free for download at aia.org.
Speaking of the convention, for those who didn’t make the trip to Denver, the AIA offers an online experience—the AIA Virtual Convention—at aia.org. This online event will feature a live-streaming simulcast of all keynote addresses and ten live seminars, so attendees can earn up to 12.5 credits, with most satisfying LUs/HSW/GBCI/ADA requirements.
“It’s a way for sole practitioners and small-firm members—who don’t have the resources or staff to cover their absence—to experience the convention online, without the cost of travel and the time commitment,” McAdams explains. “You can take classes and get as many as 12.5 learning units over three days. These sessions are also recorded and made available on aia.org for the convenience of viewing and earning learning units year-round. Users can select from the hundreds of recorded education sessions in the AIA Continuing Education System (CES) library. All of these classes are vetted and have the rigor of all of AIA’s education programs.”
AIA reviews all education providers and the classes offered and makes sure that—whether they are lunch ’n’ learns at a local firm or free sessions by local chapters or third-party education providers—all providers are vetted for quality, so member architects can receive the learning units they need.
There are also more informal peer-to-peer education opportunities available at aia.org through the site’s Knowledge Communities, which consist of twenty-one groups organized around areas of practice such as AIA TAP (Technology in Architectural Practice), Residential Architecture, or Healthcare (AIA Academy of Architecture for Health). AIA’s Small-Project Practitioners Knowledge Community is one of the most active groups of architects helping architects.
The AIA continues to make these resources more readily available at aia.org and seeks to aggregate them on the For Members web page. This page aims to provide one-stop access to a wide range of resources that a sole practitioner or small-firm architect could need. For Members is available directly via a banner link at the top of the AIA homepage, and member login is required for access. The page is loaded with discounts from AIA Advantage Partners, access to continuing-education transcripts, frequently asked questions and topics of common interest such as tips for running your firm, and research such as the monthly Architecture Billings Index numbers compiled by the Institute.
“Small firms and sole practitioners are the backbone of the AIA,” McAdams says. “All of these resources are accessible from one place here. We want to continue to make AIA For Members more robust and get more out there in blogs and other media promoting entrepreneurial architecture. A lot of our firms were hit hard by the recession, especially in housing, and we believe the ones that have come out of it will be better off in the long run. This is just one way we’re trying to help them, by providing all the resources we can in one, easily manageable place.”