Architects as Judges

Aia Documents Make Architects Judges

In owner-contractor agreements which incorporate the American Institute of Architects general conditions, project architects are made judges. AIA Doc. A201-1976, art. 2.2.7. An understanding of the architect's judicial functions is important to architects, owners, contractors and subcontractors engaged in projects governed by such general conditions provisions.

The architect is the contractually-appointed "interpreter of the Contract Documents and the judge..." of the performance of both the owner and contractor.

But Architect's Decisions May Not Be Final (except "Artistic Effect")

As to most questions, the architect's decisions are not final. However, his decisions with respect to "artistic effect" if consistent with the intent of the contract documents, are final and binding on the parties Those decisions are generally upheld in the courts unless they are arbitrary, capricious or made in bad faith. Thus, if the project architect is reasonably dissatisfied with the appearance of the work in some respect, he may reject it and require it to be redone at the expense of the contractor and any subcontractor involved.

As to the matters other than artistic effect the architect is, in the first instance, the interpreter of the language and intent of the contract documents. His interpretations are, however, appealable and the dispute involved may be submitted to arbitration after the architect has decided or had an opportunity to render a decision.

Neutrality Required

Since generally it was the architect who prepared the contract documents, including the contractual agreements and the plans and specifications, he reasonably should be the first to interpret their intent. Although the architect is the owner's representative and paid (hopefully) by the owner, the general conditions language requires that he make interpretations fairly and impartially-as a neutral judge.

Submission to arbitration requires first that the evidence be submitted to the architect for his initial determination. If he fails to make a decision or if the party against whom the decision is made is not satisfied with the result, arbitration may be had.

Time Limits May Be Critical

However, there are time limitations within which arbitration must be sought. If the architect's decision is in writing and states that it is final but subject to appeal and further states the time for arbitration demand, arbitration proceedings must be instituted within thirty days or the architect's decision will be final and binding. Otherwise, arbitration must be instituted within the time permitted by applicable state limitations statutes. If the contracting parties understand the architect's judicial responsibilities and the architect is conscientious in his performance, all three parties (architect, owner and contractor) may save time, tempers and expense. By presenting their claims and disputes fully-documented to the architect who fairly and impartially considers and decides, the unsuccessful owner or contractor may nevertheless be satisfied with having had a fair trial at the architect's level and therefore be willing to abide by the result rather than proceeding further.

Undoubtedly, the judicial responsibilities placed upon the project architect are among his most important duties. If competently, fairly and swiftly discharged, everyone on the construction team may avoid problems and expenses. On the other hand, an architect's dereliction is likely to cripple the job and cause loss of time and expense to the owner, contractor and perhaps others.

The practical-minded architect understands that his judicial role frequently gives him the opportunity to avoid or quickly solve minor disputes which would otherwise fester into major problems.

Fairness And Impartiality Required

Each time the architect is asked to make a decision he should remind himself of his obligation to be fair and impartial and of the possible consequences of his failure-not only to his owner-client but perhaps to himself and others as well.