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Aia Best Practices Project File Organization

AIA Best Practices are a collection of relevant, experience-based knowledge and expert advice on firm management, project delivery, contracts, and more, aligned with the Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice, 15th edition. You’ll find:

  • essential knowledge based on deep experience
  • expert advice that is immediately usable
  • new content and recent updates to definitive articles

Best Practices are freely contributed articles written by practicing professionals, allied professionals, strategic partners, and industry consultants. The Best Practices are an opportunity for AIA members and other allied professionals to contribute to the advancement of the practice of architecture and the profession. Each article should be viewed as a living document, and new, relevant articles are actively desired.

Aia Best Practices Project File Organization

What are AIA best practices?

AIA Best Practices are a collection of relevant, experience-based knowledge and expert advice on firm management, project delivery, contracts, and more, aligned with the Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice,

Who manages the best practices?

A volunteer AIA Best Practices Committee has primary responsibility for the Best Practices. Oversight is provided by the Advisory Group of the Practice Management Knowledge Community. Participation and support also are provided by AIA staff who manage the website and provide final editing. If you want to know more about, or would be interested in participating in the Best Practices Committee’s efforts, please 

Creating a best practice

The committee is always looking for relevant shared knowledge addressing the profession, the firm or the project. The chapter titles from the AHPP should serve as a guide. The only criteria are that submissions consist of knowledge gained from experience, and immediately applicable to a task at hand. Articles should be technical and specific. We are also looking for Best Practices to be more than just text; articles may include attachments in the form of templates, checklists, forms, or other interactive tools that can benefit AIA members.

How do I contribute?

Contributions to AIA Best Practices are welcome at any time and in any form. Completed articles are preferred, but ideas and knowledge are most important. If the topic is worthwhile, we will work with you to develop even the barest outline of an idea. Suggestions for topics are also welcome.

We strongly encourage submissions by practicing professionals, allied professionals, strategic partners, and industry consultants. To encourage contributions, there are no submission forms and no submission deadlines. The only criteria are that articles consist of knowledge gained from experience, immediately applicable to a task at hand. If you have developed a practice you would like to share with your colleagues or have encountered a situation in which the knowledge of others would be of value to you


Those individuals who wish to submit original content to be considered for publication on the AIA’s Best Practices webpage will be required to grant the AIA a perpetual, worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty free license to make such content available, as well as the right to create derivative works and the rights to use, reproduce, distribute, transmit, and publicly display the Work and any derivative works. Such license will be executed in writing at the time content is selected.

Writing a best practice

Title: The title should be explanatory, so people scanning the list of Best Practices on the AIA Website will clearly understand your topic. It must also be 50 characters or less in length, including spaces.

Description: A short description—limited to 150 characters—will be used throughout the site in order to provide an attractive synopsis of the best practice, encouraging readers to click through to the full article.

Full text of the practice, program, or effort:  This is the body of your Best Practice. In addition to the description above, many of our best practices also include a paragraph of summary or introduction at the beginning of the best practice. This introduction should put the most important information that the readers will be looking for first. Highlight the key points, engage the reader and encourage him or her to keep reading.

The rest of the article provides the supporting details and background. AIA Best Practices articles are generally two to four pages (600 to 2,000 words) in length of text excluding graphs, tables, and other attachments, but err on the side of brevity. Break your paragraphs more often than you would in a print piece.

Formatting: Online readers tend to scan rather than read. They are looking for headers that match what they are seeking, so structure the text with headers in order to help them quickly find the information they need. Headers and sub-headers should be written in sentence case.

Bullets are encouraged any time you have a list of four or more items. Bold and italics may be used judiciously.

Write for your audience. Content written to address members should feel approachable and inclusive. Use an active voice whenever possible, and recognize the diversity of the AIA membership, in both architectural practice and personal demographics.

Conclusion: Wrap up by explaining how others might adapt and utilize your practice or program under similar (rather than identical) circumstances.

Photos and Graphics: If the best practice includes photos or graphics, please submit the highest resolution version you have as a separate file for each graphic. Include any photo credit information, such as source and copyright. Accepted file formats are .jpg and .png

Attachments: For Best Practices that include attachments such as templates or checklists, the attachments need to be in formats permitting and encouraging easy use. Accepted file formats are .pdf, .doc, and .docx.

About Our Contributor: The contributor’s name and a brief description of their background is provided.  We avoid the use of email addresses and web links in this section because of the challenge of keeping up with the changes in these addresses.

Keywords: Up to 10 keywords should be provided, which should reflect the content of the Best Practice. What words would someone search for if they wanted to find the Best Practices? These keywords are not displayed within the best practice, but will be used to improve the search functionality within the website.

Feedback: Encouraging feedback and continually expanding, revising and updating the Best Practices is critical to the objectives of keeping them relevant and updated.  Each Best Practice should be held to a high standard and revised or replaced as appropriate. Criticism and commentary is encouraged.

Renaissance 3 Architects organizes its files using the following classification system. Other firms can follow this structure or create a similar taxonomy to manage project files.


Organizing project files, whether paper or electronic, can be a formidable challenge for any firm. Renaissance 3 Architects, a firm of 15 to 20 employees, has developed the following taxonomy for its project files. Project architects use thischecklist at the beginning of every new project, selecting the file folders that are likely to be needed. Administrative and IT staff can then set up the necessary file folders.

3.0 Project Management

3.1 Project Directory

3.2 Drawing List

3.3 Project Checklist

3.4 Project Fee Analysis

3.5 Project Cost Analysis and Estimates

3.6 Project Schedules and Phasing

3.7 Building Areas/Statistics

3.8 Quality Assurance Reviews

3.9 Constructability Reviews

3.10 Project Contract Documents

3.11 Electronic Drawing Media Release

3.12 Drawing/Electronic Media Request Form

3.13 Project Archiving System

3.14 Project File Organization

4.0 Code/Approvals

Chronological files containing code research,submittals, approvals, and all relatedcorrespondence, and transmitters

4.1 State Dept. of Labor Approvals

4.2 Township/City Approvals

4.3 BOCA/Code Research

4.4 Miscellaneous Approvals

5.0 Correspondence

 All correspondence arranged in reversechronological order. All transmittals, unless there areno accompanying pages, are to be stapled to theback of the letter or correspondence with which theyare transmitted.

5.1 General CorrespondenceUsed only for smaller projects, where this is the onlycorrespondence file

5.2 Architect Correspondence

5.3 Owner Correspondence

5.4 Construction Manager / ContractorsCorrespondence

5.5 Subcontractors Correspondence

5.6 Miscellaneous Correspondence

5.7 Geotechnical/Surveyor Correspondence

5.8 Civil Engineer Correspondence

5.9 Landscape Architect Correspondence

5.10 Structural Engineer Correspondence

5.11 Mechanical Engineer Correspondence

5.12 Electrical Engineer Correspondence

5.13 Food Service Consultant Correspondence

5.14 Audio-Visual Consultant Correspondence

5.15 Technology Consultant Correspondence

5.16 Tenant Correspondence© The AIA

Knowledge gained from experience immediate

The American Institute of Architects was founded in New York City in 1857 by a group of 13 architects to “promote the scientific and practical perfection of its members” and “elevate the standing of the profession.”This initial group included Charles Babcock, Henry W. Cleaveland, Henry Dudley, Leopold Eidlitz, Edward Gardiner, Richard Morris Hunt, Detlef Lienau, Fred A. Petersen, Jacob Wrey Mould, John Welch, Richard M. Upjohn and Joseph C. Wells, with Richard Upjohn serving as the first president. They met on February 23, 1857, and decided to invite 16 other prominent architects to join them, including Alexander Jackson Davis, Thomas U. Walter, Frederick Clarke Withers, and Calvert Vaux. At the time of their establishment of the AIA, anyone could claim to be an architect, as there were no schools of architecture or architectural licensing laws in the United States.

They drafted a constitution and bylaws by March 10, 1857, under the name New York Society of Architects. Thomas U. Walter, of Philadelphia, later suggested the name be changed to American Institute of Architects. The members signed the new constitution on April 15, 1857, having filed a certificate of incorporation two days earlier. The constitution was amended the following year with the mission “to promote the artistic, scientific, and practical profession of its members; to facilitate their intercourse and good fellowship; to elevate the standing of the profession; and to combine the efforts of those engaged in the practice of Architecture, for the general advancement of the Art.” Architects in other cities were asking to join in the 1860s, by the 1880s chapters had been formed in Albany, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Rhode Island, San Francisco, St. Louis, and Washington, D.C. As of 2008, AIA had more than 300 chapters.

The AIA is headquartered at 1735 New York Avenue, NW in Washington, D.C. A design competition was held in the mid-1960s to select an architect for a new AIA headquarters in Washington. Mitchell/Giurgola won the design competition but failed to get approval of the design concept from the United States Commission of Fine Arts. The firm resigned the commission and helped select The Architects Collaborative (TAC) to redesign the building. The design, led by TAC principals Norman Fletcher and Howard Elkus, was ultimately approved in 1970 and completed in 1973. In honor of the 150th anniversary of the organization, the building was formally renamed in 2007 the “American Center for Architecture” and is also home to the American Institute of Architecture Students, the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture and the National Architectural Accrediting Board.

AIA peer review

Peer reviews – the strategy for predictability

Inconsistencies, errors, and omissions have always been the major concerns of the construction industry. These can happen at any stage, from design to construction. Even when you have an excellent and experienced design professional, there’s a great deal of detail and thought that needs to go into any size project, and often these details can be missed or lost in the process. This is especially true when you are dealing with many different disciplines (such as an architect, structural engineer, contractor, etc.) and looking to maximize efficiency with lower costs.

Peer review, an evaluation done by a third party expert, is the tried and trusted solution to this challenge. In some cases, a peer review is mandatory, and some states and localities utilize companies to assist in plan check during the permitting process. But it can be helpful regardless of the size or scope of the project. A peer review, architectural or structural, generally comprises details of observations and suggestions by a licensed expert from the same industry. There are also peer reviews done by internal team members, but those are usually part of the regular process followed by most companies.

An inspection by a second pair of eyes could catch something that the first one overlooked. A peer review can improve the quality of designs, save time during construction, and prevent rework. A good review makes the life of the builder and contractor easy, and is often welcomed by the designer to protect them from issues or liability down the road. While choosing a reviewer, it is essential to check the credentials with the concerned authorities, customers, friends, and other reliable sources. The selected person has to be licensed and experienced in performing the task. The person also needs to be proficient in dealing with architects, engineers, and developers, aside from being a good communicator.

A form of self-regulation by members of the same group, peer review has certainly come of age over the years. Even in construction, there are different methods used by different companies and experts. But the primary objective of a review will always remain the same – ensuring quality standards and improving performance.

The scope of a peer review


When it comes to construction, everything starts with design. Errors or constructability issues can crop up at the design stage. Designs must, therefore, be thoroughly reviewed to ensure that they meet the intended functionality, quality, aesthetics, and cost expectations of all the stakeholders involved in the project. This not only applies to clear-cut design errors, but also to impractical designs that look good on paper. The results of a design peer review will either reaffirm the accuracy of the same or suggest alternatives for the areas that are problematic.


Title 24, CalGreen, and ADA – building codes are not the same everywhere, so the task of being fully compliant is a challenge for architects, engineers, and contractors. An external peer reviewer, who is well versed with the state and local regulations, can help inspect the designs and suggest changes if any.

This makes the transition to the next phase quicker and smoother, and speeds up the permitting process with the local jurisdiction. Compliance reviews can be done at different stages from start to finish.


Discrepancies can occur at any stage – from design to construction. A peer review can catch non-compatibility, improper installation of materials, and waste. Since the quality and longevity of the finished structure is largely dependent on the quality of materials, stringent review and quality control are indispensable. This makes every stakeholder of the project accountable for the outcome. Further, this can help reduce construction costs by revealing the possibility of substituting expensive materials with other cheaper options.

Code compliance

Construction projects, large ones in particular, are complex, time-consuming, and accident-prone. Thorough peer reviews are essential since they make sure that the concerned building is designed and constructed as per the legal requirements. These requirements cover multiple factors, including the environmental impact and convenience of the people using the premises. The idea is to minimize the possibility of injury and costly litigation that could follow.

Design phases


Pre-design is an information gathering phase that will be the foundation for the design phases to follow. The main goal during this phase is to learn everything possible about our clients’ personality, lifestyle, and needs as well as determine how much space you need now and likely to need in the future, and how that space should be used, organized, and arranged. This information is organized into a document called the Program, which describes all the rooms and spaces for the project, their approximate sizes and any specific qualities or unique features you are looking for. The other part of Pre-design phase is observing and documenting the existing conditions at the project site. This usually entails a survey of the land to determine the property line locations and/or measurements of any existing structures. We also do background research to better understand how the site relates to the surrounding area, climate, people, and the regulations that affect the project. We track these regulations in a Zoning Summary document and talk to city planning staff if questions arise. Clients should expect to be very involved and ready to answer personal questions during this phase. We sometimes give “homework” assignments to get to know you better. Collaborating in this way allows us to better understand your values and needs, resulting in a design that reflects your individuality with optimal functionality.


In this phase, we begin the process of translating the Program into an efficient building design. This is when we start exploring design concepts; it is the time for testing options and getting a general idea of the look and feel. The floor plans and shape of the project will begin to take form, but the specifics about materials and details will come later. The Schematic Design phase includes several meetings where we present ideas to our clients using images of other projects, hand sketches, and models to help visualize the size, shape, and relationship of spaces to each other. We listen and observe your reactions, then refine the ideas according to your feedback until we reach an agreed upon design direction to develop further in the following phases.  Clients can expect to be quite engaged throughout this phase and to be asked for approval of the Schematic Design before work proceeds. Make sure to let your design professional know if you don’t understand something and take the time necessary to give thoughtful feedback. It is always possible to make changes later, but it is easiest during this phase when the design is most fluid.


During Design Development, we advance the design significantly based on the floor plan and exterior concept approved in the previous phase. The first priority of this phase is to define and develop all the important aspects of the project and produce a set of drawings and outline specification to show potential contractors for preliminary cost estimating. If adjustments are necessary to bring the project scope in line with the construction budget, it is most efficient to do this sooner than later. Once we know we are on track, we will talk more specifically about the interior and exterior materials and functionality. As we dial in the layout of the indoor and outdoor spaces we will refine the window and door placements and make adjustments to the building form. This phase is usually when our clients feel the project coming to life and it becomes possible to see themselves in the new space. By the end of the Design Development phase, the building exterior will be more fully designed, the interior layout completed, dimensions of all spaces finalized, and most materials selected. A structural engineer will be added to the team, and consultants for HVAC, plumbing, and electrical systems may be needed depending on the complexity of the project. The deliverable will be a more detailed set of drawings that communicates the overall layout and volume of the building or space, all significant equipment, and the type of material or finish for every surface of the project. 

DD Deliverables: Drawing Set and Outline Specification document
DD Duration: usually 8-12 weeks


In this phase we develop the Design Drawings into a thorough and precise set of Construction Documents. These drawings and specifications have all of the details, dimensions, and notes necessary to communicate the entire design intent to the builder. We show how the building components should be connected, specify all of the materials, finishes, fixtures, equipment, and appliances to be installed, and coordinate our drawings with the structural engineer’s and any other consultant drawings. The Construction Documents phase often requires the most time, which can surprise clients because the design seems complete after Design Development. However, this is a critical step in the process of successfully and accurately executing the design you have invested in. Early in this phase there may still be options on the table for some of the items to be specified. Clients should be prepared to make decisions during this phase. It is our job to make recommendations and educate you about the options, but ultimately you will be the one occupying and maintaining the home or building and you have the final say.

CD Deliverables: Drawings and Specification for Construction
CD Duration: usually 8-12 weeks


During this phase we add to the Construction Documents any additional information required to get a building permit. This is the information needed to show the project complies with the applicable land use, building, and energy codes, and any other applicable guidelines and regulations required by the city or jurisdiction issuing the permit. We submit these drawings along with the various forms required for the permit application to the local plans reviewer, monitor the progress during the review period, and give additional information or clarifications as requested. Little, if anything is needed from the client during this phase—except patience. Our goal is to shepherd your project through as quickly and painlessly as possible, but the length and cost of this phase can vary greatly depending on the jurisdiction, complexity of the project, and any special historic district or community design review processes.

BP Deliverables: Drawings and Forms for Building Permit Application
BP Duration: usually 12-24 weeks (varies widely)


We are happy to introduce our clients to a number of reputable builders we work with and trust. We can also be available to attend interviews and walk-throughs, help you evaluate contractor qualifications, and provide assistance with obtaining and reviewing bids. Some clients already have a contractor in mind when they come to us, but many take advantage of our extensive contractor rolodex and relationships to find their builder.

BP Deliverables: Drawings and Specifications for Bidding
BP Duration: usually 3-6 weeks


While most of the architect’s work is done before any building begins, our consistent presence during the construction phase is equally important. During this phase we visit the jobsite at regular intervals to answer questions from the builder and proactively address potential issues. The frequency of our site visits could be weekly or monthly depending on the project and your needs, but it is vital to have us keeping an eye on things to ensure the finished project meets your expectations. Inevitably, some decisions must be made or modified in the field, and our involvement and ability to work quickly with your contractor to solve problems is essential for helping you avoid costly delays and change orders. During Construction Administration, the architect’s role is advisor to the owner. At our site visits we will take photos and write field reports to document the progress, confirm the materials and workmanship are of the quality you agreed to, and verify your contractor’s billings accurately reflect the amount of work completed. At the end of the project, we help you develop your final Punch List to ensure all work is completed to your satisfaction. 

CA Deliverables: Field Observation Reports
CA Duration: concurrent with construction timeframe


AIA Best Practices is a collection of relevant, experience-based knowledge and expert advice on firm management, project delivery, contracts and more, aligned with the Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice, 15th edition. You’ll find: essential knowledge based on deep experience.

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