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What You Need to Know About the IgCC

Architects will have new opportunities—and face some new challenges—when the International Green Construction Code (IgCC) becomes law

By Jessyca Henderson, AIA

AIA Resource Architect for Sustainability Advocacy

The AIA’s participation in the development of the International Green Construction Code (IgCC) has revealed two distinct areas for examination and action. The first is the technical side, the content of the code, and just how green the new green minimum will be. The other aspect, one that may elicit the most passionate response by architects is the professional practice side of the equation. What happens when we take what has been essentially a best-practices approach to design and turn it into the minimum requirement for every project for every practicing architect? While the technical content will be battled out among the myriad of industry stakeholders (including the AIA) that already engage in the code development process, perhaps even more important are the potential legal and practice related pitfalls.

Mainstreaming sustainable design, by law

No longer a niche or boutique practice, sustainable design is fast becoming the norm for architects, accelerated by the advent of green building rating systems, standards, and codes. Codifying sustainable design allows architects to add another layer of expertise to the fundamentals of health, safety, and welfare that form the basis for licensed practice. This will ultimately be good for the profession in terms of raising the knowledge and credibility of architects, and refocusing what has often been viewed as an outlying design philosophy, sometimes displacing other equally important design considerations.

For years, individual organizations and different professions have tried to own green design. But when green becomes law, we all own it. Codes are society’s collective responsibility for the built environment. According to Ujjval K. Vyas and Edward B. Gentilcore, writing in the Summer 2010 issue of The Construction Lawyer, when we venture to green that environment, vigilance is required in scrutinizing the actual promises of the green building movement, in theory as well as practice.

Some architects may not question the grayer areas of green design claims and the policies of the organizations that stand behind them, including the AIA, for fear that they would be interpreted as being anti-environmentalists, or at the very least an outsider to a popular trend. This should not be the case. Just as criticizing those in power is an act of citizenship for the common good, challenging the green community to become more rigorous in its self examination will ultimately lead to better buildings.

Green codes may very well be able to achieve overall improvements in the performance of all buildings. Codifying sustainable design will end the days of purely aspiration-based approaches. For those who have long practiced what is now called sustainable design, it will be an easy transition. For some, it will mean paying a little more attention to building performance to ensure code compliance.  For others, it will be a dramatic change. Where a traditional design process and a focus on aesthetics over performance has been the emphasis, architects may have to learn a completely new approach to the way they practice architecture.

To approach this challenge head-on, Vyas and Gentilcore write that architects must be more aware than ever about the differences between the “fundamental principles that motivate the green building movement and the actual, demonstrable benefits of green building techniques.”

Design professional in responsible charge

When looking at the ramifications of model green codes emerging as law, there are a number of professional practice issues that warrant closer examination. Among them, paying close attention to the role of the “design professional in responsible charge,” redefining the standard of care, and preserving the profession from emerging non-licensed business interests that would further erode the role of the architect.

With the new ICC green code, certain aspects of a project might not fall within the architect or engineer’s area of expertise. If the architect is forced to hire a consultant in these areas, the cost to cover potential liability for errors in the consultant’s work will either drive up the cost of fees, or become an unfunded mandate taken out of the architect’s fee. In addition, the owner may choose to engage these consultants independently. The registered professional in responsible charge of the overall project will not likely want to take responsibility for the work of the owner’s consultants.

As a professional body, architects will be judged against the actions of their peers in the profession. The standard of care is determined by how architects practice as a group. According to Frederick F. Butters, FAIA, Esq., writing in Real Estate Issues, that includes when and to what degree a “reasonable” professional would state with certainty what another architect should or should not do, or did or did not do, in a particular situation.

The profession’s ability to have a body of green knowledge is predicated on a critical mass of architects having adopted sustainable design as part of everyday practice. Once green codes become law, an architect’s duty includes understanding that law as a minimum standard or practice. However, having a code and complying with it are two different things, and as a profession and an industry, we have miles to go before we have reached the capability of achieving the latter. Green codes will likely become a reality in 2012, which will be before all architects are practicing in a manner that would be considered sustainable as prescribed by the new green code.

In its current form, the IgCC calls for additional responsibility, opportunity, and associated liability for architects. Whether or not this will result in uncompensated risk and higher professional liability premiums remains to be seen. For both projects that meet and those that go above and beyond the code, Butters writes that “awareness of the limits of green claims in contracts and careful consideration of the role of green certifications will be necessary. Final acquisition of green certifications may and often will occur long after the common definition of substantial completion in form contracts; this is becoming clear in case studies where building certification does not necessarily correlate with day-to-day building performance.”

Preserving the profession

The profession has already witnessed, with significant negative consequences, the effects of having partial control of important components of the design and construction process. Nowhere was this more prevalent than with the well-intentioned but poorly executed Americans with Disabilities Act. The lack of local control over permitting and the profession’s failure to fully appreciate the consequences of monitoring issues has led to the creation of a cottage industry of unlicensed accessibility consultants who now judge the work of architects. The same risk factors exist for the new green code.

In terms of uncompensated risk, the IgCC eliminates options that might otherwise be available to compensate for a change in circumstances during construction. Under certification programs such as LEED, if conditions change that eliminate the possibility for achieving certain points, other points may be pursued toward the certification. The IgCC likely will not allow for that flexibility. As currently crafted, the code requires that once the jurisdictional and project electives are chosen, they are the base requirements for the project, with no exceptions.

The adoption of green codes in jurisdictions across the country will mark the mainstreaming of green and will indicate that the time has passed for campaigning to get clients and constructors on board. This is no longer a nascent field. It is the ground upon which the AIA can build a foundation in green contracts poised to become the model for the industry.


As the final form of the IgCC comes together in 2011, there will be a need for training programs for AIA members, code officials, product manufacturers, and others in the construction industry. Understanding what is in the code, while seemingly elementary, is going to be a significant undertaking. This would ideally involve a detailed walkthrough of the document with examples and discussions that will be necessary to demonstrate compliance with the IgCC. For AIA continuing education providers, there are as many possibilities for educational programming around the IgCC as there are interested parties. Another aspect of education will consist of identifying and disseminating the detailed technical requirements contained in the IgCC. The AIA will look to collaborate with codes and standards development organizations, state and federal standards setting agencies, trade organizations, building component manufacturers, and material suppliers on what design professionals will need to implement the code.

Inasmuch as this is a challenge to the AIA, it is also a call to action for education providers at both the academic and continuing education level to be ready to dive into the code. Changes in building codes create a demand for changes in the training of architects, and schools of architecture, the Intern Development Program, and state licensing boards will be faced with the reality of a new minimum standard. This includes the Architect’s Registration Exam, if it is expected to remain relevant to current practice.

At the center of it all

The IgCC, once adopted by local jurisdictions, will have a game-changing impact on the practice of architecture, and there will be a number of specific responsibilities for architects that are above today’s standard practice. While it may be appropriate for architects to take on this work, these new responsibilities will present both opportunities and challenges for architects. Properly addressed, these responsibilities will allow for effective and profitable actions for architects by placing them at the center of the mainstreaming of green design. If not properly addressed and acted upon by architects, these new responsibilities could become an unfunded mandate where architects would be held liable for things they can only partially control. Though the minimum standard of care will change over time, the expectation that architects understand and practice to it does not. For this reason, we have a great deal of work ahead of us.

Go to the IgCC website for information on future comment periods, hearings, and publications dates.



Recent Related:

Sustainability and Design—Can We Evolve?

Public Comments Sought on International Green Construction Code First Draft

International Green Construction Code Effort Tackles Building Commissioning and Adoptability

Work on International Green Construction Code Continues on Course

ICC, AIA, ASTM Begin Work on International Green Construction Code

AIA Partners with ICC to Create a Green Construction Code

AIA, NBI Partner on Energy Saving Code Revisions


Visit the IgCC Web site.

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The AIA’s resource knowledge base can connect you to podcast “Citizen Architect on the Move: Chris Green, AIA.”

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Back to AIArchitect October 22, 2010 Issue

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