Specs – “Letters” to Subcontractors?

My work, writing architectural specifications for construction projects, feels a bit like writing letters to subcontractors.  The architect and the general contractor sometimes seem like the couriers who pass these letters along. 

I’m oversimplifying things here; there’s so much other work that goes into the project management of a construction project on the part of the architect and the general contractor.  They are so much more than messengers, and even with specs, they need to be so much more than messengers.  But the specs are something that are best understood by the sub or vendor on the contractor side, and by the spec writer on the design team side.  We’re specialists in our fields.  (Something that highlights this fact is that a bad spec section can look just fine to almost everyone on the project team [owner, architect, general contractor], but a sub and a spec writer know an incomplete or incorrect spec when they look carefully.)

Because the writer of the specs naturally knows the specs better than the architect and general contractor do, sometimes part of my job is to act as translator between architect and general contractor.  That’s fine – I expect to do that.  But once in a while, I act as translator between general contractor and subcontractor.  And that’s a little weird

I wouldn’t be writing about this if it had only happened once, or if it had only happened with one contractor.  It’s happened to me with several general contractors.

The architect and the spec writer shouldn’t have to put their heads together to figure out what the general contractor is trying to communicate to the architect.  We shouldn’t have to trace back through an email chain to find out the source of the GC’s question.  We shouldn’t have to go back to the source (the sub’s email to the GC) to be able to figure out that the GC isn’t understanding something about his sub’s question, but he’s passing on the question to the architect, anyway.

General contractors shouldn’t just pass along questions from their subs to the architect – they should try to answer them first.  And architects shouldn’t just pass along questions from their consultants to the owner, they should try to answer them first.  And architects shouldn’t just pass on info from one source to their consultants without verifying it first.

And the main point of all of this is that architects and general contractors need to read the specs, and not just act like the couriers who deliver the specs to the subs.  The specs are not just for the subcontractors!

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