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The History of The Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice

By Nancy Hadley, Assoc. AIA
AIA Archivist

Published by the AIA in 1920, The Handbook of Architectural Practice was the first publication to deal with the professional and business aspects of managing an architectural practice. It was a logical continuation of the AIA’s efforts in the 19th and early 20th centuries to establish architecture as a profession. The newest edition has 1,165 pages of text, compared to only 204 pages (including contract documents) in the first edition of 1920, but their purposes remain the same.

The Handbook was the brainchild of Frank Miles Day, FAIA (1861–1918). Day was a notable Philadelphia architect who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and then traveled and studied architecture in Europe before returning to practice in his hometown in 1886. He was acclaimed by his peers not only for his designs, but also for his mastery of business practice, as an expert on holding competitions, and for his abilities in teaching, speaking, and writing. He was elected president of the AIA for 1906 and reelected to a second term for 1907.

Day prepared the preliminary edition of the Handbook in 1917, while he was chairman of the AIA’s Committee on Contracts and Specifications. His untimely death, in 1918, delayed the Handbook’s publication for two years.

The Handbook was immediately popular, and was updated in new editions in 1923, 1927, 1943, 1949, 1951, and 1953. For the 8th edition in 1958, the Handbook was completely rewritten and greatly expanded. This edition ushered in a new era of large-scale collaboration to produce the volume. A committee of 16 architects led its creation, assisted by nearly 100 architects and 18 non-architects. (This scale of participation has remained similar over the decades. The latest edition involved a steering committee, expert advisers, reviewers, editors, and 117 contributing authors.)

An even more revolutionary redesign took place for the ninth edition in 1963. The book had a new title, The Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice, and was published in chapter-length sections that could be housed in three numbered binders. Purchasers subscribed to a Handbook supplement service, and received updated documents and chapters to add or replace in their binders throughout the 1960s and 1970s. The 1988 and 1994 editions were housed in four large binders, two of which were needed just to contain the sample contract documents.

In 2001, the handbook returned to book form, supplemented with a CD-ROM containing sample documents. And for the first time, the AIA did not publish the handbook itself, but instead partnered with John Wiley Publishers. The AIA kept abreast of ongoing changes in practice by producing updated volumes each year from 2003 to 2006.

The 14th edition, published in 2008, did not have updates. By then, the AIA was routinely putting new knowledge products online instead of in print, a practice that has only intensified. For the 15th edition, all individual chapters are for sale electronically.

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Frank Miles Day, FAIA. All images courtesy of the AIA Archives.

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First edition of The Handbook of Architectural Practice, published in 1920.

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Recent Related:

The Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice, Fifteenth Edition Released with New Emphasis on Small Firms and Business Management


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