Illogical (part two)

Here are some possible solutions to the unsustainable situation outlined in part one of this post:

Colleges and universities could stop increasing the price of tuition, or even decrease it.

Parents and high schools could stop pushing all kids towards 4-year college.

  • A 2011 Harvard University study, “Pathways to Prosperity,” points out that of the 47 million new job openings projected over the decade ending in 2018, about one-third will need people with bachelor’s degrees or higher, one-third will need people with associates degrees or occupational certificates, and the last one-third will go to high school grads and lower.
  • “Pathways to Prosperity” also stated that “nearly 70 percent of high school graduates now go to college within two years of graduating. But… only about 4 in 10 Americans have obtained either an associate’s or bachelor’s degree by their mid-twenties. Roughly another 10 percent have earned a certificate… Only 56 percent of those enrolling in a four-year college attain a bachelor’s degree after six years…”
  • So, two-thirds of the jobs out there will be for people who have less education than a bachelor’s degree. Almost half of those who enroll in a four-year-college don’t finish. This tells me that not everyone should be going to college.
  • When student loans are thrown into this mix, it becomes really obvious that many kids are being guided down the wrong path.

Back to architecture: The profession of architecture could change a lot.

1.  Architects could charge higher fees, and pay employees more.

Other professionals manage to do this, but architects don’t anymore. Why can’t architecture firms charge enough to keep their employees from being crushed by their student loan debt? If I look at it as a supply-and-demand issue, I have to conclude that either architects aren’t delivering what owners expect and need (there’s not much demand), or there are too many architects (there’s too much supply).

To be able to deliver what owners expect and need, and to be able to charge fair fees for these services, architects need to get more technical.

Architects should keep technical expertise in-house or under their umbrella. I am not talking about computer software; I am not talking about Reviteers. I am talking about building code expertise. I am talking about an understanding of building technology (knowledge of the technical processes and methods of assembling buildings). I am talking about comprehension of building science. (“If architects did their job there wouldn’t be any need for building science.” – Joe Lstiburek.1) I am talking about effective construction contract administration.2

A building owner has just one financial “pie” of a certain size for each project. Everyone involved in the design and construction of the building gets a piece of the pie. Architects keep giving away profitable tasks (usually just by not doing a good enough job at them, so the owner hires someone else to do that part next time) and keep receiving a smaller piece of the pie. Owners sometimes hire code consultants, and sometimes hire building envelope consultants. Sometimes contractors hire building envelope consultants. Owners often choose Design-Build, or Construction-Manager-as-General Contractor, or IPD project delivery methods, all of which give the contractor more of the pie.

Why are owners making these choices? Architects haven’t been delivering. Architects’ piece of the pie gets smaller, because they’re doing less of the essential work; they’re doing less of the technical work. That work still has to get done. If architects take back the technical work, and do it properly, architects’ piece of the pie can get bigger.

2.  States could bring back the apprenticeship path to licensure.

Tuition at NAAB-accredited architecture schools often costs a lot of money. But only a small percentage of what accredited schools teach actually contributes to students’ knowledge of the instruments of service that building departments and owner-architect agreements require. Accredited schools generally place most of their focus on design and theory, and barely touch on building codes, construction documentation, and construction contract administration. They don’t teach much building technology or building science.

Tuition at technical schools  and community colleges is much more affordable. Their curricula usually focus on drafting, modeling, construction detailing, building materials, and construction techniques. Basically, they focus on production, documentation, and building technology. Many firms looking for new employees are looking for production people. Building departments are looking for clear documents that include code-required details. Owners are looking for buildings that won’t leak or get moldy (we prevent these things with an understanding of building technology).

So why does an increasing number of firms refuse to hire people without professional degrees? The focus in schools offering professional degrees is design (the work that firm owners and current employees want to keep to themselves). Why not hire some people with associate’s degrees, who are trained and ready to do production, and probably understand how to draw roof and wall details much better than newly-minted BArch’s and MArch’s?

Colorado is one of a handful of states that still have the apprenticeship path to licensure (in Colorado, you don’t need any college degree – you just work for 10 years under the supervision of a licensed architect, and then you’re eligible to sit for your licensing exams). I think this is a good alternative to the professional degree path.

If a professional degree from an accredited school isn’t required for licensure, architect-hopefuls wouldn’t have to borrow huge sums of money for school. They could go to technical schools or community colleges, and then get work experience, and then get licensed.

3.  NCARB could make its alternative route to certification less expensive.

NCARB requires each certification candidate to have a professional degree from an accredited school. There’s an alternate route to NCARB certification, through the Broadly Experienced Architect Program. However, a dossier review fee could be as high as $5,000 if an architect who is licensed in an NCARB member state, but who didn’t go to an accredited school, wishes to pursue NCARB certification. This makes it tough for many people who wish to get licensed in additional states.

4. The AIA could Reposition in a different direction.  

The AIA launched its “Repositioning the AIA” initiative earlier this year. The goal of the initiative is to “determine how the Institute should reposition architecture, architects, and how to reflect current client and public perceptions.”

From the strategic marketing firm working on the repositioning: “One of the great kind of a-ha moments for us was understanding that architects are no longer those who specialize in the built environment… a lot of people who now call themselves, and are trained as, architects are not building physical things anymore, you’re building design solutions that address societal problems. It’s not bricks and mortar; it’s systems, it’s constructs, but in all these things that you’re building, you’re creating something that matters.”3

If architects are “no longer those who specialize in the built environment,” who is? If we no longer specialize in the built environment, what, exactly, do we do? Why would we want our work to differ so extremely from the way our states legally define the work of an architect? Why would the AIA wish to reposition its members in such a way that not only do we no longer do the work that the states license us to do, but we do something else, something that is not regulated, and does not require licensure, and which, therefore, legally, anyone could do?

Architects should be focusing on getting better at what we are licensed to do. Once we’ve perfected that, we can add other services to our portfolios. We should not be throwing away what we are licensed to do, doing something else instead, and still trying to call ourselves architects.

Some owners who wish to build buildings think of architects as just a necessary evil. I suspect that government requirements for licensed architects to stamp and sign construction documents are the only reason that most architects who were employed during the Great Recession kept their jobs.

Design is not regulated. Architecture is not only Design. And if we start treating architecture as if it is just Design, but is the design of anything we desire (and can sell to someone), the profession will be lost, fees will go even lower, and those young architecture grads will never get out of debt.



  1. Read the whole Inhabitat interview with Joe Lstiburek of Building Science Corporation.
  2. CSI, the Construction Specifications Institute, can help with building technology education and with effective construction contract administration. CSI is working on a Building Technology Education Program, and has a well-established education track for Construction Contract Administration in its CCCA certification.
  3. Watch the whole Repositioning (the AIA) at Grassroots: 3/21 General Session video.

Communication Breakdown?

Ever feel like you just aren’t being heard?  Ever feel like you aren’t sure exactly what someone’s talking about?  I do.

We hear a lot about how we work in “silos” today; we often work a little bit too independently from the rest of the people we’re supposed to be teaming with.  We make assumptions about the work of others (and then build our work from there); we sometimes make incorrect assumptions (and that affects our work negatively).

I love working independently, and I love working with other architects, but… the more I understand about the other people affected by my work, the better I can do my work.

When architects understand more about the point of view of a contractor, a subcontractor, a manufacturer, a supplier, or an owner, we can understand them better, we can make ourselves understood better, we can have a better team.  We can have a better construction process!

I often work on trying to learn more about the perspectives of others in the construction industry, but my first big step towards a better understanding was taking the CSI CDT exam.

The CDT (Construction Documents Technologist) exam covers a lot of information about preparing, understanding, and interpreting construction documents, and the roles of different groups in the construction process.

It was my first non-project-related introduction to the processes involved on the contractor side of the team.  There’s a lot I’d still like to learn, about the perspectives of the owner and the contractor during construction, but the CDT exam was a good start.

Learning more about where others are coming from can help you avoid communication breakdowns.

  • Final registration deadline for CSI Spring Certification Exams is February 28th.
  • Exams will be offered April 1 – 27, 2013, in the U.S. & Canada.
  • Learn more at

Please. Stop the Reinvention Talk.

You may have seen the latest in the Reinvention Discussion – it’s an article on the DesignIntelligence website by James P. Cramer, called “Competing for the Future.” It starts out by intoning “Beware the unimaginative and the Luddites who portend the end of the profession, and open your mind to a future of relevant possibilities.” 1

Please.  Stop the Reinvention Talk, or do a better job of convincing me that the profession of architecture must be completely reinvented.  I am willing to listen, but I’d like to hear ideas that are more concrete than those I’ve read so far.

I am not a Luddite.  I am not unimaginative.  I am probably a cynic, but I do offer solutions (skip to the bottom for solutions).  The profession of architecture needs revitalization, not reinvention.  

Owners (the people who need buildings built) still have the same needs they have always had; owners need some entity to listen to and interpret their needs and ideas for their buildings, and to translate those needs and ideas into instructions to build the buildings.  Although technology has changed many things in the last several centuries, this particular need of owners has not changed.

Architects are the people who are best qualified to interpret the needs of owners and turn them into models, perspective drawings, diagrams, and plans that help owners explore and confirm their needs.  Architects have been the people who are best qualified to produce the drawings and specifications that serve as the instructions to build these buildings.  Notice that there are two parts to this; these are two of the fundamental components of being an architect.

Architects are no longer the only people fulfilling the needs above.  Owners are relying less and less on architects for all their needs (programming, master planning, schematic design concepts, placemaking, design development, construction documentation, guidance during bidding or negotiation with a contractor, and construction contract administration).

Some architects are not able to effectively meet these needs.  Other entities have stepped in to fill the voids.  (These others include, but are not limited to, “placemakers,” green building consultants, and Construction Managers.) 

We architects don’t need to reinvent ourselves as something else, and try to sell owners on something new that they may not need or want.

If we architects want more work, we must do a better job of meeting the needs that owners already have, that we used to meet, and no longer do. 

Owners’ needs haven’t changed – the profession of architecture has.  We have stopped being able to most effectively meet all of the needs of owners.  Some may argue that owners have additional needs, over what they used to have.  Some will argue that buildings are more complicated than they used to be, and we need more help.  These things are true.  But architects can get that help from consultants and keep it all under the umbrella of the design team – we don’t have to get that help from the contractor part of the team.  We have to prove our value to owners, and they will stop looking elsewhere for the services that we have traditionally provided.    

The Construction Specifications Institute can help architects meet the all the needs of owners that architects used to meet.  As I’ve mentioned here before, CSI’s Construction Documents Technologist program is a good start.  The CDT program can help architects develop a better understanding of the construction process, better construction contract administration skills, better construction documentation abilities, and better means of communication with the contractor on projects.  This is basic stuff, people.  This is stuff that architects used to consider to be of primary importance… and then they didn’t… and then other people started doing the work that architects used to do…



1.  Here’s that article on the DesignIntelligence website: 


Architects, Take Back the Reins

Things are looking dismal in our profession.  We have lots of bad buildings in the U.S.  We have record numbers of unemployed architecture professionals, and many of the firms that do have work are getting lower fees for their services.  Architects seem to be respected a little bit less every decade by owners and contractors.

And, every decade, a higher percentage of design and construction projects seem to be led by the contractor team.

Yes, there’s a connection.  More contractor-led projects lead to more badly-designed buildings, lower fees for architects, less stability for architecture firms, and less respect for architects.

If we want better buildings to make up our built environment, if we want to be proud to be architects, and to be able to support our families on our salaries as architects, we need to change some things about how architects practice.  Once we make those changes, we can get back to being the leaders in the design and construction process, and we will have better buildings in the U.S.

Forget about this horrible recession for a minute.  I know it’s a big factor in our situation now, in February 2012, and it’s the reason for all the unemployment.  But just think back to 2007 or so, when the economy was fine.  Even then, we had a bunch of problems that we have now:

  1. We have intern architects clamoring for the right to call themselves “architects” without having to take those pesky Architect Registration Exams.
  2. Architecture school costs students more money every decade, yet, every decade, teaches them less that will help them in their practices as architects.2
  3. We have architecture firms recommending Construction Manager as Constructor project delivery to owners.3  We have contractors leading most Design/Build projects, and architects who are happy to partner with them. 4  Essentially, we have more contractor-led design projects than we did a few decades ago, and architects have played a part in letting this happen, and as a result, we have more bad buildings.
  4. We have some architects who don’t understand owner-contractor agreements, and who don’t know what the project specifications say, administering the contract for construction on design-bid-build projects.  They get led around by the nose by contractors, and are not providing to owners the services the owners expected and contracted for.  The owners get less value than they should, and therefore the owners have less respect for architects.
  5. We have some architects who don’t know much about building codes, building technology, and construction detailing, yet who are producing documents that contractors are supposed to build from.  So we get some building designs that are really poorly executed in construction, and look like junk in a few years.
  6. We have some guys who call themselves construction managers poorly managing the documentation part of bidding and negotiation with their subcontractors, and architects who don’t even recognize how poorly the owner is being served.  The architect who doesn’t know much about procurement and contracting, and doesn’t know much about construction, serves very little purpose to the owner on a construction manager project, whether the CM is a good one, or just someone calling himself one.

The more we have design decisions made by contractors (who are driven by costs), the more badly-designed buildings we will get, and the less the public will think that design matters.  The less good design people see, the less they think they need it in their world, and the less they’re willing to pay for it, and the more buildings will be built for the lowest price possible, and the more contractor-led projects we’ll have, and the more bad buildings we’ll have, and the fewer practicing architects we’ll have.  This is bad for our built environment and bad for our profession.

The more students, emerging professionals, and licensed architects focus on design (the way the building is intended to look) to the exclusion of the technical stuff (the instructions to the contractor for achieving the design intent – the specifications and the construction details), the more we will back ourselves into the corner of having to rely on contractors to design the details.  At that point, owners may be pretty easily persuaded by contractors that it’s just a short jump from designing all the details to designing the whole building.

The more architects focus on design, and the less they work on improving their knowledge of construction documentation, construction details, building technology, construction specifications, agreements, and construction contract administration, the more work (including design work, starting with the detailing) will have to be handed over to contractors, which will lead to more bad buildings in our world, lower fees and less respect for architects, and less value to building owners.  It’s counterintuitive, but the more architecture schools and architecture firms focus on design (and ignore the technical stuff), the more bad design we’ll see in the world.  The focus on design to the exclusion of the technical stuff is counterproductive; we’re “designing” ourselves right out of our traditional scope of work.    

Architects need to take back the reins, and keep a firm grip on them.  Here’s how:    

  • Architects need to understand that part of their job is to interpret the code and incorporate the code requirements into the project documents.
  • Architects need to understand what they are drawing, and need to have a good feeling for how the building and their details will actually be constructed.
  • Architects need to understand that the specifications are contract documents, too, and are complementary to the drawings.
  • Architects need to understand that they are responsible, (according to the code, and according to their owner-architect agreements) for coordinating the work of all the design disciplines.
  • Architects need to get better at construction contract administration – they need to understand construction contracts and Division 01 of the specifications as well as the technical sections.

In order to get the chance to produce good designs, architects have to get back to understanding, and properly drawing, the construction details, the way architects used to (before they started handing this architectural work over to contractors).  In order to get to work on building designs that are executed well in construction, architects must get back to the basics of understanding building technology, thorough product research, specifications writing, good construction contract administration practices, and good agreements that include fair compensation and appropriate allocation of risk.

Architects need to think about their work in a different way. 

Of course, there are good architects whose firms are doing everything they should be.  And there are good construction management firms who are true assets to projects.  With good architects and good contractors, good working relationships between architects and contractors are possible, and are happening right now.  And the owners are often getting a good value.  But architects don’t have to have contracts with contractors, or give away work to them, or go along with them to the detriment of the owner, in order to get along with contractors.  Good contract documents (clear, concise, correct and complete drawings and specifications) and an understanding of roles and responsibilities during construction are the appropriate foundation for good working relationships between architects and contractors.

The Construction Specification Institute can help architects improve their practices. CSI’s certification programs can help architects develop a better understanding of the construction process, better construction contract administration skills, better construction documentation abilities, and better means of communication with the contractor on projects.

If we don’t change the way many firms are practicing architecture right now, I see a future with fewer practicing architects, even lower fees, more poorly-designed buildings, more poorly-constructed buildings, and less respect for architects.  If architects don’t get more technical, but keep focusing on design instead, we’ll actually end up with less good design in the world. 



  1. Check out “Architect” magazine’s article “The 50-Year-Old Intern.”  Remember, “Architect” is “The Magazine of the American Institute of Architects.”  The article actually asks, “Does Licensure Matter?”  Also check out this article by John Cary published in the online magazine “Good”:  Even though they work in architecture firms, many emerging professionals don’t know what it means to be an architect.  This dilutes the respect that the public has for architects.  The International Building Code requires documents to be submitted for permit by a “registered design professional in responsible charge”, who is “a registered design professional engaged by the owner to review and coordinate certain aspects of the project, as determined by the building official, for compatibility with the design of the building or structure, including submittal documents prepared by others.”  I can’t imagine this requirement changing anytime soon.  This person can be an engineer or an architect.  It’s best, for our built environment, to have this person be an architect.  It’s best if this architect is directly hired by the owner, instead of by a contractor who is part of an alternative project delivery team.  On most buildings, design professionals can’t submit for permit if they aren’t licensed.  You can’t lead if you’re not licensed.  Students and interns need to understand this, and the public needs to understand this.
  2. One thing I learned really, really well from my 2 summer internships and my 5 years in college (the whole first half of the 1990’s) was that I didn’t know much, and that I had a lot that I needed to learn after graduation, during my internship.  This is a concept that many of today’s emerging professionals seem to be unable to grasp.  I suspect that they are not being taught this in school, and I think this has something to do with the lack of experienced professionals who are teaching in architecture schools.  The National Architectural Accrediting Board “2010 Report on Accreditation in Architecture Education” tells us, “Of the total number of assistant, associate, and full professors, 934 (29.4%) are registered to practice in a U.S. jurisdiction.”  Less than a third of faculty in accredited architecture schools are licensed!  Only 25.9%, about a quarter, of full professors are actually licensed.  This report can be found on this page.
  3. When you don’t know much about construction or the technical parts of architecture, doing construction management project delivery method takes some of the pressure to figure out how to meet the owner’s budget off the architect.  Having the Contractor’s input during preconstruction seems to take some of the risk out of the project for the architect.  I know how it feels.  When I was a project manager in an architecture firm, I knew that there was a lot I didn’t know.  I was so relieved to find out that a large project that I was managing was going to be a Construction Manager as Constructor project.  That project wrapped up in 2000.  (I haven’t been happy with a CM as Constructor project since 1999.   You do the math.)  The fact is that if you don’t really know what you’re doing, and the CM gives you no preconstruction input, but you were counting on it, you’re in bad shape.  And the truth is that your actual liability as an architect doesn’t change if the contractor is a CM as Constructor.  Take back the scope of architecture work that should be yours – do design-bid-build project delivery and hire a good estimator as your consultant to help advise you on designing to the owner’s budget.
  4. When the contractor is the entity who has the agreement with the owner, well, the contractor is your client.  Wouldn’t you rather work for the owner, whom you may be able to convince to implement good design, rather than work for the contractor, who is almost always going to make design decisions driven by the dollars?  When architects don’t have a direct relationship with owners, and serve only as the contractor’s consultant in order to produce a permit set for the contractor, respect and fees for architects get chipped away at, and get progressively lower.


I can’t even count how many times people have told me about construction projects gone wrong.  Most of the projects I hear about are small commercial or residential projects that involved finishes only, and didn’t need permits, so didn’t have good construction documents.

Every time the storyteller is finished, I say, “THIS is why we do DRAWINGS” or “THIS is why we write SPECS!” 

It’s good to hear these stories; it’s always efficient to learn from others’ mistakes.  But I hate seeing the frustration on people’s faces, and hearing the anger in their voices, especially since most of these situations could have been prevented by issuing better construction documents.

The other day, while on vacation in a warm place, I sat by a pool supervising my 6-year-old.  I overheard a woman telling 2 of her friends about a project in her home – a tile job that the installer had botched.  The 3 types of tile that the homeowner had supplied were intended to be installed in horizontal bands – a band of one color at the bottom of the wall, with a band of the second color above that, capped by a band of the third color.

The homeowner left home for a while after the installer began work, and she came back to find the project nearly completed, and totally wrong.  The tile had been installed in vertical stripes instead of horizontal bands.

She was so indignant as she told her story.  I was marveling about how an installer could have screwed up so badly; I was thinking that he must have completely ignored the drawings.  One of her friends said, “Well, maybe you didn’t get it in writing.”  She assured them that she HAD gotten it in writing… and it slowly dawned on me that the intended tile pattern was described in WRITING, and not shown in a DRAWING.  The situation was totally different than I’d initially assumed; the homeowner had communicated the design intent to the installer in a completely inappropriate way.  And I started feeling really sorry for the installer who was the victim of a totally preventable miscommunication, and as a result, probably lost money on the job. 

The written word can be interpreted in so many ways when it comes to things like tile patterns!  THIS is why we do DRAWINGS.

Properly-annotated construction drawings have been proven to be the most effective way to communicate the desired results for the appearance of visually important components of a construction project.  Written descriptions alone, or worse, verbal descriptions alone, of the desired results for a project (no matter how small) are ineffective.  Drawings alone, without proper notes, are not as effective as they could be.

People interpret different types of communication in different ways.  For the purpose of construction, verbal communications leave WAY TOO MUCH room for many different interpretations.  Written communications alone leave too much open to different people’s interpretations.  Drawings and other images are pretty good at communicating the desired results.  But a combination of properly-annotated drawings, project specifications, and project procurement and contracting requirements, is the best way to demonstrate the expectations for construction.

So how do you, as a design professional, know what properly-annotated drawings or good project specifications for your project are?

As you gain more insight into the different ways your documents may be interpreted by the people bidding, estimating, or constructing your project, you will gain a better understanding of how to properly prepare these documents.

There’s SO MUCH to learn – all of us in the construction industry are constantly learning (or should be).  Much of this knowledge can ONLY be gained through experience, but not all of it has to be.  A really good way to learn about how your documents may be interpreted by the users is to prepare for a CSI certification exam, starting with the CDT (Construction Documents Technologist) exam.

The more you know, the more you can learn; once you have built up a good foundation of knowledge and understanding, you will find that you can learn FASTER and you can learn MORE than you could before.  If you have a little bit of experience working in an architecture firm, you can study for and pass the CDT exam.  Preparing for and passing the CDT exam can be a shortcut in building this foundation of knowledge and understanding.  You may already have a good foundation, built up from your years of experience.  Take the CDT exam and supplement your experience; at the very least, it’ll be a good review, and there’s a chance that you may find out you have some gaps in your knowledge base. 

When I took the CDT exam, I discovered gaps in my knowledge base – and filled them in!  I also realized that not all those lessons learned the painful way, through experience, had to be learned that way… I wish I’d taken the CDT exam earlier than I did.

If you’re already a CDT, take an Advanced Certification exam (Certified Construction Contract Administrator, Certified Construction Specifier, or Certified Construction Product Representative).  It’ll be a good review at the very least.  Or, it could turn out to be a refresher for you; you may have been doing things a certain way for years, and maybe some things have changed in the way people are interpreting your documents!

Even when documents for a project are good, I still hear construction-gone-wrong stories.  No construction project is perfect, but when the documents are clear, concise, correct, and complete, all members of the project team (Owner, Design Team, Contractor) have the opportunity to determine what’s expected, and therefore, an opportunity to do their best work.  CSI’s certification exams can help you be a part of the group working on IMPROVING construction communications, and reducing the number of those silly construction-gone-bad stories people are always telling me.

General CSI Certification Information:

Registration link:

  • Exams will be offered April 2 – April 28, 2012, in the U.S. & Canada.
  • Early registration deadline: February 2, 2012
  • Final registration deadline: March 2, 2012 

CDT Information

General information about the CDT exam:

  • Cost Before Feb. 2: $235 (member) $370 (non-member)
  • Cost after Feb. 2: $295 (member) $430 (non-member)
  • Cost for qualified students: $105

The CDT exam is now based on the CSI Project Delivery Practice Guide:

Advanced Exam Information

Cost of an advanced exam:

  • Before Feb. 2:  $275 (member) $410 (non-member)
  • After Feb. 2: $340 (member) $475 (non-member)

CCS information:

CCCA information:

CCPR information:

  • This is the last year this exam will be based on the Project Resource Manual (

You don’t have to be a CSI member to register for an exam – I wasn’t! – but if you join first, you get the member discount!

More on CSI Exams (Because this is SO important)

There are some excellent posts on a CSI LinkedIn Group discussion.  I’m going to quote them here, since not everyone can see that discussion. 

Robert Johnson posted a quote from Kevin Phillips, who wrote about a time when he was starting his first intern job:

“About a month after I started my employment, I took my CDT (Construction Documents Technology) exam offered through CSI. This was my first introduction to CSI. I passed my exam and received a certificate as a Construction Documents Technologist. Studying and taking that exam opened my eyes to a whole new world. I learned so much about construction documents and the industry as a whole. I felt that I had a HUGE advantage over my peers because I learned much more about the industry than they had…in a short period of time.”  (Kevin Phillips)
And I wrote a follow-up:

“The SHORT PERIOD OF TIME is key. A lot of architects think that learning about construction contract administration has to be EITHER a ‘baptism by fire,’ OR ELSE a decade-long apprentice period involving a lot of copying over of someone else’s shop drawing review notes. 

“There is a third option – study for the CDT exam (in conjunction with a little baptism by fire and some copying over of shop drawing review notes) – and you’ll have such a greater understanding of what your role is as the architect on a construction project, in a MUCH shorter period of time than it takes others who don’t take the CDT!”  (Liz O’Sullivan)

Robert Johnson followed up:

“I agree with Liz about the basic knowledge that the CDT education course will give you about contract administration – the roles of each of the elements of the contract documents and the basic roles and responsibilities of the participants during the construction stage.

“Taking the CCCA education course after CDT will carry that to a much further depth. You will now learn more detailed information about the roles and responsibilities of the owner, contractor, and design professional during each of the activities of the construction period. This will include preconstruction submittals, preconstruction meetings, submittals, meetings, closeout submittals, site visits, quality assurance and quality control, interpretations, substitutions, claims and disputes, measurement and payment, and project closeout to name some of the topics.

“As with other similar areas, you can take the long and painful route of learning from your experiences without any education to go with it. The quality of the resulting education will relate to the quality and knowledge of your mentors and how comprehensive your experience is in terms of involvement in all the construction period activities, types of projects, types of project delivery, etc.

“The CCCA education will make your experience much more fruitful and better prepare you for new unexperienced situations in the future. The combination of a good education and experince can’t be beat! If you have contract administration responsibilities and don’t take the CCCA education course, you are shortchanging yourself.”  (Robert Johnson)

Here’s a link to the members-only discussion.  If you’re a CSI member, you can become a member of the group.

CSI can help you put yourself in the shoes of others… and achieve a smoother construction process.

Spec writers joke about how one of our career requirements is the ability to read minds.  We are joking, of course, but sometimes we’re quicker to realize what the architect and the contractor are trying to communicate to each other, and we end up acting as translator between them.  Sometimes this can happen during construction; sometimes it can happen during construction documentation, when a contractor is part of the project team.

Why is it that some spec writers have this ability?  Perhaps it’s because so many of us have taken CSI Certification exams, and are active members of our CSI Chapters. 

CSI draws its membership from specifiers, architects, engineers, contractors, facility mangers, product representatives, manufacturers, and building owners.  So if you’re active in a Chapter, you get to know all kinds of people who use construction documents.  You get to know people outside your immediate field, who can be a tremendous help to you in your work.  For example, architects can get to know product representatives in a setting different from the typical “box lunch” presentation, or a meeting about a specific product for a specific project.  You can get to know people on a more personal professional level, outside the context of a specific product or specific task, and get an overall understanding of how that person does his or her job, and how that person can help you do your job.

There is SO MUCH to be gained from preparing for CSI Certification exams.  The CDT (Construction Documents Technologist) exam covers a wide base of knowledge about preparing, understanding, and interpreting construction documents, and the roles of different groups in the construction process, such as architect, owner, contractor, suppliers, and product representatives. 

When you better understand a team member’s role in your project, you can better communicate with that person.  If you can put yourself in the shoes of another construction project team member, you can have clearer documentation, better communication, and a smoother construction process.  CSI can help you do that.  You don’t even have to be a member to take a Certification exam. 

If you register by Friday, January 28, 2011, you get a discount on registration for CSI Certification exams.  Final deadline is Saturday February 26, 2011.  Exams are offered at computer testing centers between March 28 and April 9.  Check it all out at


Take the CDT exam!

Do you produce construction documents (architects and engineers)?
Do you use construction documents (contractors)?

Do you do both?  (Assist in the production of construction documents, and comply with construction documents, the way product representatives do.)
I encourage you to take CSI’s CDT exam.

Although I was already a licensed architect with several years of construction contract administration experience when I took the CDT exam several years ago, studying for the exam rounded out my knowledge of the construction process, and filled in some gaps in my experience.  I had a number of “aha” moments.  My past experience informed my studying, and the things I learned from studying and testing have helped me to do my current work better. 

The Construction Specifications Institute administers this exam, the Construction Documents Technologist exam, twice a year.

Registration is open now for the spring exam.  go to CSI’s Website