Technology in Architectural Practice

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The AIA Technology in Architectural Practice Knowledge Community (TAP) serves as a resource for AIA members, the profession, and the public in the deployment of computer technology in the practice of architecture. TAP leaders monitor the development of computer technology and its impact on architecture practice and the entire building life cycle, including design, construction, facility management, and retirement or reuse.


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Providing CAD Files

  • 1.  Providing CAD Files

    Posted 11-21-2023 05:14 AM

    My client for a residential project is a developer.  My plans are 98% complete.  He is asking me to provide him with a set of CAD files (not PDF's).  He wants my dwg cad file.  I'm worried he can misuse my cad file for other projects.  Cad files can be reformatted, imported, exported and shared in other cad programs and used for other projects.  He wants to submit the drawings to the building department himself.  He could revise the plan check set.  I have the standard note on my drawings that prohibit re-use but my cad file can be easily revised to delete this note.

    Should I provide my cad file to the client?  He already has a full set of PDF drawings.

    Thanks for your advice.

    Tim Mead, AIA Architect

    Maui Chapter, Hawaii

    Timothy Mead AIA Member Emeritus
    Timothy N. Mead, AIA, Architect
    Kihei HI

  • 2.  RE: Providing CAD Files

    Posted 11-27-2023 12:23 PM

    No.  I especially do not give up any AutoCAD paper space files nor any sections or details.  My contract with some clients does require me to send AutoCAD file of the floor plans.  They claim to need them for backgrounds for engineering.  In the case of the floor plans, I remove most all information except walls, doors, windows, steps and stairs and also the room names.  Then I PURGE the file several times.  I then select ALL and change all remaining work to layer ZERO and PURGE again.

    Our profession is already a race to the bottom of the fees due to poor business practices.

    Just my thoughts and practices.

    Kevin Rush AIA
    Architectural Design Partners, P.A.
    Minneapolis MN

  • 3.  RE: Providing CAD Files

    Posted 11-27-2023 12:23 PM

    Hi, providing the CAD or models that were created to create the contract documents is typically part of your agreement with the client.  However, to insure you are not subject to and additional risk in supplying the files, you might consider having them sign a digital media agreement (name is up to you) that clearly states you are not liable for any use of these files outside of your responsible control.  I have been using some form of this for decades.  Good luck,

    Guy Messick AIA
    IA Interior Architects
    Seattle WA

  • 4.  RE: Providing CAD Files

    Posted 11-27-2023 12:23 PM

    Your CAD files are tools, if you were a plumber or electrician you might lend your tools to a trusted friend, not a stranger… but it comes down to your agreement regarding deliverables: did you say ‘drawings’, ‘PDFs’, CAD files or nothing specific?

    I wouldn’t give them your cad files unless you committed to do so in your agreement.

    FYI, I’m not an architect but managed jobs for 30 years.

    Bob Wessel
    212 706 7683

  • 5.  RE: Providing CAD Files

    Posted 11-27-2023 12:23 PM
    It really depends on what the client purchased from you, if it's unclear in your contract I'd provide the DWG to save the fight.  
    The intellectual property is in the design or arrangement of geometry, it's not the geometry itself... If you say no it'll be unlikely you get another job from the client. If you say yes you'd outline restrictions of use to give you ground for remunerationif the terms were breached.  
    Just so you know there are many free tools that'll export a DWG from A PDF, these tools will Assisi export Layers. 
    Sorry about the typos etc, I'm on my phone and in a hurry

  • 6.  RE: Providing CAD Files

    Posted 11-27-2023 12:24 PM

    What does your contract say regarding CAD / .DWG files?  Specifically?  You are likely learning this lesson that a simple line item in the master contract stating that finished product CAD / .dwg files cost an extra $50k eliminates this problem/opportunity up front. How CAD / .DWG files are handled/managed is specifically addressed in every contract and engagement and we never give them out without seriously substantial payment, for all the reasons you state. CAD is a tool for design and CD's, "electronic documents" as deliverables are defined as PDF's for all our work (unless the client and contractor know their stipulated CAD needs up front, and they are accommodated in the contract, work plan and products).  Do we bend the rules and give them to folks for good reasons or reduced amounts, or stripped of certain data sets, you bet, but that is based on our generosity and the ongoing working relationship with our clientele and their larger business network. 

    We are rarely asked for CAD files due to this one line item in our agreements.

    For the naysayers, yes, there are multiple ways to bring PDF's into CAD and all are far cheaper that the $50k quoted above.  Please proceed and leave us out of it.  What you would be doing/achieving is not equivalent to the CAD set requested (we have to do it all the time).  Declare a value for your products and don't have it default to charity, design needs to be a business. Businesses set expectations, then exceed them, mostly via contract terms.

    All the best.

    Emil Slavik AIA
    Compass SFMP, LLC
    Somerset KY

  • 7.  RE: Providing CAD Files

    Posted 11-27-2023 12:24 PM

    Don't provide your CAD files to the client! 

    You are the owner of the design.
    The full set of PDF drawings should be enough.

    Been there!. When a client wants editable drawings it's because they intend to edit them.

    They can always redraw or edit the PDF files but it will be harder.

    Good Luck

    Dr. Fernando Abruña, FAIA

  • 8.  RE: Providing CAD Files

    Posted 11-27-2023 12:24 PM

    The way I have organized my plans keep the "base" drawings separate from the "sheet" drawings. Base drawings are the floor plans, roof plans, elevations, sections, etc. which do not contain anything but the actual drawings. Then I xref the base drawings into the sheet drawings that contains all the necesary information for a full set of plans. 

    When I am asked for CAD files, I only send the Base drawings with a huge warning.  I do not send the sheet drawings, exactly bewcause of your concerns. If they want to modify the drawings themself, they will need to creaate them fron scratch. 

    Also, make sure the PDF's you send can not be imported and extract the information directly from autoCAD. 

    Matias Santini AIA
    Hogan Land Services

  • 9.  RE: Providing CAD Files

    Posted 11-29-2023 11:36 AM

    Your response goes directly to how complicated it can be to provide CAD files.  Revit, layers, Xrefernce, etc.  Doing Hospitals requires many consultants those working under your contract with the owner, no problem. Those doing other work including the General Contractor, require a release of some kind. I use Bluebeam to work on pdfs.  This program allows me to scale, estimate etc.  Since the drawings that I submit for agency approvals are all pdfs. I prefer to provde the agency approved pdfs to the client and contractor.  Then they can use Bluebeam or other software for cost estimating or other legitimate activities.

    Nathaniel Wilson AIA
    NSW Consulting Inc Substantiable Architecture and Planning
    Santa Monica CA

  • 10.  RE: Providing CAD Files

    Posted 11-27-2023 12:25 PM

    Absolutely NOT.  If you have no choice, you should have your attorney draft a draconian contract with penalties and protections, that he must sign before getting the files.

    Gustavo Lima AIA
    Gustavo A. Lima Architecture, PC
    Williamsville NY

  • 11.  RE: Providing CAD Files

    Posted 11-27-2023 12:25 PM
    Here's a disclaimer provided by one of our colleagues...

    67A Water Street, San Francisco, California 94133
    V: 415.776.8065 Ext 1# | M: 415.254.4717

    Irving A. Gonzales–Principal AIA | NOMA
    G7A | Gonzales Architects
    email:" target="_blank">

    2023 | Board of Directors | Chair | Mission Housing Development Corp.
    2015 | AIA San Francisco Chapter President

    CONFIDENTIALITY: This message may contain privileged and/or confidential information. It is for the exclusive use of the intended recipients. Any review, use, disclosure or distribution by other persons or entities is prohibited. If you are not the intended recipient, please contact the sender by reply and destroy all copies of the original message. Thank you!

  • 12.  RE: Providing CAD Files

    Posted 11-27-2023 12:26 PM

    If you have an AIA Owner-Architect contract, then you own your drawings including copyright and all rights to them.  I think normal copyright law pertaining to architectural works says about the same thing - you can look it up on the web.  I would not give the developer your CAD files for the reasons you mention. Giving away your CAD files would be similar to giving away hand-drawn construction documents you had worked on for eons.  I don't think you'd ever do that!  

    The only possible exception would be if you could get the developer to sign a waiver of liability which would relieve you of all responsibility for his use of your CAD files and his agreeing to accept full responsibility for any and all changes he might make to the CAD files. Of course enforcing such a waiver would require taking legal action which isn't fun or cheap.

    Good luck and stick to your guns!

    Robert Larsen AIA
    Robert R. Larsen, A.I.A.
    Denver CO

  • 13.  RE: Providing CAD Files

    Posted 11-27-2023 12:26 PM

    Hello Timothy Mead,

    I would not share CAD files. Only give him PDF files. Also the Owner should not be filing the drawing set – that is the responsibility of the Architect.

    Francois de Menil



  • 14.  RE: Providing CAD Files

    Posted 11-27-2023 12:26 PM
    Did your Agreement with the Client specifically address the CAD Drawings as a deliverable?

    When this was a concern, we required the execution of a Release and Acknowledgement document agreeing that the CAD files were being provided to facilitate coordination and communication on that specific project (name and address of the Project was included in the Release), and that they could not be altered or used for any other Project or purpose.

    We then saved a copy of the files with the executed copy of the Release. 

    Reference also Copyright and date on the Drawings.

    Including language on your non-signed title blocks that Drawings are only valid when S&S also helps and only providing the final Drawings in secure PDF format also helps. 

    Stephen Lafferty, AIA

  • 15.  RE: Providing CAD Files

    Posted 11-27-2023 12:27 PM

    No.  I do not share all my AutoCAD project files.  Especially, I do not share my AutoCAD details nor sections/elevations.

    For that matter, be careful about sharing PDFs that contain the geometry and layers.

    I do share an AutoCAD plan for use by the Engineers as a background, but I strip out everything but the windows, walls, doors, and Room Names/Numbers and I PURGE the remaining file then I do a SELECT ALL and change the layers to all be "0" (Zero) and I PURGE the file again.  The remaining file is perfect for the engineers.  They can xref it into their file and screen the TRANSPARENCY down so their work is prominent on the architectural background.

    Just my thoughts.

    Kevin Rush AIA
    Architectural Design Partners, P.A.
    Minneapolis MN

  • 16.  RE: Providing CAD Files

    Posted 11-28-2023 12:46 PM
    Edited by Andrew Dwight 11-29-2023 07:57 PM
    PDF to DWG, help for those unsure.  
    As mentioned, PDFs created with most CAD packages contain vectors, and vectors can be exported as DWG files via many free software packages. If you would like to stop this, you'll need to export the PDF as a JPEG file and then resave it as a PDF. Another easy way to do this is to screen capture the plan set; however, in all instances, you'll lose resolution ( the lines won't be as crisp). In my experience, clients mainly ask for DWGs for consultants, EG: engineers, interior designers, 3D visuals, 3D walk-throughs and photo realistic renders. I can see why the client wants to save redrawing the same geometry, yet it's up to you to make the call or to charge extra.  
    If you're running your practice as a business, you'd offer these services yourself, and if you were an entrepreneur, you'd outsource it and sell it with a margin.  
    Anyway, I hope this helps.  

  • 17.  RE: Providing CAD Files

    Posted 11-29-2023 08:56 AM
    What does your contract say about ownership of the documents and the digital files other than PDF's?

  • 18.  RE: Providing CAD Files

    Posted 11-29-2023 10:20 AM

    Good advice in the previous comments.  With the client being a developer, I'm surprised that no one has yet mentioned that a huge concern is that the developer would use the files to build additional projects, robbing the architect of his compensation and potentially exposing him to liability if his name is still attached.  Remember, an architect provides a service, not a product.  Any agreement to provide CAD, PDF, or other forms of the documents must clearly spell out that they cannot be used for other projects without the express written permission of the architect.

    Steven Groth AIA
    RAMLOW/STEIN Architecture + Interiors
    Milwaukee WI

  • 19.  RE: Providing CAD Files

    Posted 11-30-2023 06:38 PM
    Luckily, Iowa the state makes the building officials responsible for compliance with the state laws on signing and sealing projects.  One thing that has worked for me in the past.  I heard that a set of our drawings were submitted in another city without our involvement.
    I called the building department and asked who had signed and sealed the documents.  He said that I had.  I told him that I had only signed them for use in the other town.  He asked for a few minutes.
    He called me back.  They wondered why the building was for a site with 4' of fall along the building when this site was almost flat.  He told the contractor and developer they needed to provide drawings with a wet seal and signature.  
    The developer demanded that I had to sign and seal the documents because he purchased our agreement.  I told him that the sale had voided the agreement. He yelled for a few minutes which did nothing.  He then explained they had already done the site work and had already leased parts of the building.  He also slipped up and said he is planning to do two more buildings.  
    He ended up getting an engineer to modify the building enough it was no longer ours.  Luckily it did not meet code and it cost a lot to modify the almost complete building.  Some of the tenants backed out because it was not attractive.

  • 20.  RE: Providing CAD Files

    Posted 12-01-2023 08:48 AM
    I work primarily in the non-profit world but do have requests for plans from almost every group at one time or another.  My solution is to provide drawings as requested without a title block and with a disclaimer that notes the project was done for a specific site and building code.  I also note that the plans are not to be reused without the guidance of another licensed architect who is to take full responsibility for the new work.  That all assumes that I've been paid for the work completed by my office and the client is considered "in good standing" by me.

    George F Sincox AIA
    Sincox Associates Architects
    414 1st Street, POB 2696
    Westfield NJ 07090
    (908)232-4439 fax
    (908)451-2879 text


  • 21.  RE: Providing CAD Files

    Posted 11-29-2023 11:27 AM

    Great Question.  In this case the owner may have a perfectly legitimate reason to request your CAD files. He will be hiring a contractor and estimating costs and he may be doing the Construction Administration.  I would provide him the CAD files but make him sign a release. If you browse AIA contracts you will find the exact wording regarding the following: Indemnify you for the use of your CAD files.  The files are only for single use at the location in your contract. Use at other locations requires payment of a reuse fee.  This reminds me of a project I did for a developer many years ago.  150 single family homes.  I did one floor plan on CAD. Using rotate and mirror the contractor filled 150 sites.  3 different elevations.  Worst project ever, I never went to see it.

    Nathaniel Wilson AIA
    NSW Consulting Inc Substantiable Architecture and Planning
    Santa Monica CA