Why Does My Spec Writer Ask So Many Annoying Questions?

Many full-time specifiers were project architects at some point. We’ve been in your shoes. We are thinking about ourselves in your future shoes, a few months from now, during construction. That’s why we ask you all these questions during the Construction Documents phase.

How do spec writers keep all these questions in their heads?

Well, they’re not always bouncing around in our heads. When we use our master spec sections to prepare project specification sections, we get prompted to think about many little details of construction, spanning a range from bidding to layout, rough construction, finished construction, to warranties and life cycle maintenance. We also think about sequencing, and how things will all get put together, a little more than some other members of the design team do.

But I still have design work, and other stuff to do right now, during CDs. Why do I have to think about these questions now? Why can’t we just address these things in the field?

The process of writing a spec section, much like the process of drawing a construction detail, is part of the process of design. Your spec writer is a design professional, just as your consulting engineers are.

Sometimes spec writers think a little bit like estimators – when we look at product data and specification masters, we consider different product options and selections that need to be made. That’s one reason we ask the project architect questions. We don’t want you to have to make these selections during the submittals part of construction. We want to specify it now. Why? It’s not because we’re control freaks, and it’s not that we’re so concerned about your work load during construction contract administration (although some of us might be control freaks, and I personally am concerned about my architect-clients’ work load during construction). We want to spec these things now because now, during CDs, is the right time.

Some product options are standard and others cost more. We’d rather specify the color you want, now, before the contract is signed, so that there won’t be extra costs in the form of change orders for silly things like colors that are more expensive than the color group the contractor was expecting (and priced).

Sometimes we think like installers or subcontractors. We might ask questions about whether the owner wants vinyl tiles to be under the casework, or to butt to the casework. This is something that might be in spec sections for casework and for vinyl tile. Someone needs to make the owner’s expectations explicitly clear to the contractor. The owner might not care. But the owner might care – the project architect should ask the owner.

Things that ought to be addressed during CDs, and aren’t, often end up costing the owner more money, end up costing the architect more time (and therefore burning through more fee and therefore reducing the firm’s profit) and end up causing the general contractor more stress, because of having to obtain a price on documents that aren’t really complete, and having to then address (argue about) discrepancies between what was actually desired (but not specified clearly) and what was priced (based on fair assumptions).

SOMEBODY HAS TO ADDRESS THESE ISSUES. The most qualified person, and the person who might actually be legally obligated, to address these issues, is the architect. The contractor often ends up making these decisions, and it’s not always the way the owner or the architect would have liked it – it’s better to explain how you’d like it, so the contractor knows, instead of letting him do it however he decides, and then asking for it to be redone later. Redoing things costs the owner extra money.

THE ISSUES HAVE TO BE ADDRESSED AT SOME POINT. They will not just go away. The time to address these things is during construction documents phase, when everything can be considered together before it’s too late. (Before it’s too late to make necessary changes to other things in order to get everything to turn out the way you envision. Nothing in design and construction can be considered in a vacuum. Everything affects, and is affected by, other things.) Try to address everything now, and you’ll have fewer surprises during construction.

Your spec writer is thinking about these relationships between building elements right now, and has taken the time to ask you the questions, and wants to write the specs in such a way that your intent can be achieved during construction.

Take the time now, read your spec writer’s provoking emails now, think through everything now, ask your spec writer questions now, and get all those design decisions made now, so that you’re not scrambling later, under the gun, in the field, during construction.

This is what the sophisticated owner expects.

If You’re an Owner, Do Yourself a Favor: Require Record Specs

I have a simple piece of advice for owners who are having buildings built.  Require the contractor to submit Record Specifications.   

Step 1:  Require, as part of the Contract for Construction, that the contractor submit Record Specifications at project closeout.  This should be easy.  You don’t even need to make up language for it.  It’s already in the commonly used AIA A201-2007, the General Conditions of the Contract.  Article 3.11, Documents and Samples at the Site, reads, “The Contractor shall maintain at the site for the Owner one copy of the Drawings, Specifications, Addenda, Change Orders and other Modifications, in good order and marked currently to indicate field changes and selections made during construction, and one copy of approved Shop Drawings, Product Data, Samples and similar required submittals.  These shall be available to the Architect and shall be delivered to the Architect for submittal to the Owner upon completion of the Work as a record of the Work as constructed.”

Step 2:  After Step 1 has been undertaken, request that the architect expand upon this contract requirement in Division 01 of the specifications.  CSI’s MasterFormat has created a place for this requirement to be expanded upon – Section 01 78 39 “Project Record Documents.”  Arcom’s MasterSpec has some great standard language in this section, including requirements that the Contractor “Mark Specifications to indicate the actual product installation where installation varies from that indicated in Specifications, addenda, and contract modifications.”  “Give particular attention to information on concealed products and installations that cannot be readily identified and recorded later.”  “Mark copy with the proprietary name and model number of products, materials, and equipment furnished, including substitutions and product options selected.”  “Record the name of manufacturer, supplier, Installer, and other information necessary to provide a record of selections made.”

Step 3:  If Step 1 has been executed, execute Step 3 (whether or not Step 2 was executed).  At project closeout, make sure that the Record Specifications have been submitted by the contractor, along with the record drawings (the “as-builts”).  Do not pay the contractor the final payment until these have been submitted.

Step 4:  Store the record specifications, in a safe place, along with the record drawings.

A responsible owner might ask me some questions, and I will answer them:

Q1:  Will this cost me more money?

A1:  Yes, this will add a little bit of money to the construction cost.  It will take a little extra time for the contractor to update the record specs every day during construction.  It should take a contractor no more than 5 minutes a day, as long as he keeps up with it every day.

Q2:  Why would I want to spend this extra money?

A2:  Spending this tiny extra bit of money now will save you money in the future.  If you have the Record Specifications to refer to in the future, you will save yourself time that you might otherwise have to spend searching for a product name or model number that you urgently need.  If you have the Record Specifications to copy and give to other people that you hire to do maintenance on, or an addition to, your building, you will save yourself money because you will be saving the people you have hired some significant time.

Q3:  What would these people be spending time on?

A3:  If you have an existing building that you want to do an addition to, you might want to match the storefront, the brick, the stucco color, the precast panel concrete mix, the standing seam metal roof profile and color, the tinted glass color, the asphalt shingles, the stone veneer, the tile floors, the wood doors… If you wish to match any of the elements in the addition to their counterparts in the existing building, the architect will have to track down the exact products that were used in the existing building.

Q4:  But can’t I just have the architect write “match existing” on the drawings?

A4:  Yes, but then the contractor or his subcontractors will have to try to figure out what was used on the existing building.  If they don’t really know, or if they have preferred vendors that they purchase from, and don’t try to look too hard beyond those vendors, they might just “do their best” to match the existing.  That might be ok, or it might not be ok, but what leverage will you have to make them match it if you really want it to match, especially if you had put your project out to competitive bid?

Q5:  Why do I need Record Specs?  Isn’t that information on the Record Drawings (the “as-builts”)?

Q6:  Usually, specific product names, manufacturers, and model numbers are not on the drawings.  That information belongs in the specifications.  For example, the drawings should show the extent of, and the details of, a standing seam roof installation.  But if you want competitive bids, the specifications should list several manufacturer names and the acceptable product by each, and specific information such as the dimensions of the panel.  The drawings might list a generic color, or a specific color might be in the specs, but the type of metal finish (such as Kynar or siliconized polyester) will be in the specs.    

Despite your best efforts, things might not go flawlessly.  The contractor might not do a great job with these record specs.  The architect might not realize that he’s supposed to receive them from the contractor.  You might forget to make sure that you get them before you sign that final check.  But it’s really, really worth enforcing this common contract requirement.

And, of course, even if everything goes well, you might still waste some time.  Last week, a former co-worker of mine received an email from an interior designer who is working on a tenant finish in a space that I worked on 11 years ago.  The designer wondered if we remembered the manufacturer of the demountable aluminum and glass partitions in the space.  I couldn’t remember, and my old firm no longer had the record documents.  The designer actually had the record documents, but “that information wasn’t on the drawings.”  I suggested that perhaps she wasn’t looking at the specifications, which were on pages 2 and 3 of the set of drawings.  I heard back a few minutes later… the manufacturer’s name was right there, in the sheet specs.  You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink…  But it’s well worth a try.

Today’s Webinar on Submittals

This afternoon I attended a great CSI Practice Group webinar. You don’t have to be a CSI member to be part of the Practice Groups. There are practice groups with free webinars for BIM, sustainability, specifying, product representation, and construction contract administration. For info on CSI Practice Groups: http://www.csinet.org/Main-Menu-Category/Communities-2109-14280/Practice-Group

Today’s Specifying Practice Group topic, presented by Dave Stutzman and Louis Medcalf, was “Submittals.” There’s one little tangent from the presentation that I want to elaborate on here:

On a recent project of mine, the lack of a submittal for the contractor’s proposed solution to an unexpected situation caused a problem. The contractor didn’t think that a submittal was required by the contract documents, and the architect didn’t realize that a submittal was required by the contract documents. The contractor could have saved himself some money and time, and could have saved the architect and the owner some time, if the contractor had just prepared a submittal for the architect’s review before proceeding with the work. (Oh, yes, some freshly-installed flooring underlayment had to be removed before the project could proceed. THAT was a waste of time and money.)

If something is added to a project, because of an unforeseen condition, everyone (architect, owner, contractor) often acts as if it’s the first time this sort of thing has ever happened. It’s not. Unexpected things happen all the time on construction projects, and that’s why we have standard processes to deal with them.

Anything that wasn’t originally in the project, but is part of the project now, is in the contract as the result of either a change order or a minor change to the contract. Whether it’s a moisture mitigation treatment for an existing slab, or a whole new roof assembly, whether it was initiated by an owner as a late addition to a project, or it was initiated by the contractor as a solution to an unexpected condition, or initiated as a substitution request because of a sudden product unavailability, it ends up in the contract as the direct result of a change order or a minor change (such as the type authorized by an ASI, Architect’s Supplemental Instructions). Even when the change results in no added cost to the owner, and even when its purpose is solely to repair a mistake made by the contractor, it’s a change, and it should be documented (and submitted on).

Architects and specifiers can make sure that the contract documents require submittals for things that weren’t originally in the project. Requiring submittals for items added to the project during construction is a good idea. In fact, requiring submittals for items added to the project during construction may be even more important than requiring submittals for things that were originally part of the design, since the new element wasn’t originally thought through along with the rest of the design. The contractor’s preparation of the submittal, and the architect’s review of the submittal, act as a double-check mechanism to help make sure that the added item will be appropriate.

If the architect is creating a new spec section as part of an ASI or Proposal Request, the architect should include in the specs a requirement for submittals – just as the spec sections in the original documents did. If the architect is modifying a spec section as part of an ASI or a Proposal Request, the spec section probably already calls for submittals. The architect needs to dictate those submittal requirements in the documents issued during construction.

Then, the architect just needs to make sure that the contractor provides the submittal required by the contract documents; the architect then just needs to enforce the contract documents.

We have typical processes that state submittal requirements for Substitution Requests and for contractor-generated Change Order Proposals. So the architect doesn’t need to reinvent a process; the architect just needs to enforce the contract documents.

If there’s a substitution request generated by the Contractor, the Division 01 spec section “Substitution Procedures” can include language that requires product data and samples to be submitted as part of the substitution request. MasterSpec’s master language already does this very well.

Contractor-initiated Change Order Proposals that are the result of unexpected site conditions are addressed in the Division 01 spec section “Contract Modification Procedures.” The MasterSpec version of this section includes some language for this, but more specific language could be added by the specifier.

When unforeseen site conditions pop up, people often panic, and rush through things, trying to find a solution quickly, to stay on schedule. Just remember – there are probably already processes for these situations in your contract documents, in Division 01 of the specifications. Do not ignore them. This is the worst time to throw out the rules.  Your schedule may suffer even more if you ignore submittal requirements. If the requirements for typical submittal info get written into the “rules” (Division 01) and are in there BEFORE unforeseen situations come up (before the contract is signed), it’s easier for the architect to enforce the submittal requirements. It can be difficult to extract a submittal from a contractor after a substitution request or a change order proposal has already been submitted and informally approved.

 

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…

Notes:

___________________________________________________________________________________

1.  Here’s that article on the DesignIntelligence website: http://www.di.net/articles/archive/competing_future/ 

 

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. 

Notes:

____________________________________________________________________________

  1. Check out “Architect” magazine’s article “The 50-Year-Old Intern.”  http://www.architectmagazine.com/architects/the-50-year-old-intern.aspx  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”: http://www.good.is/post/why-architecture-s-identity-problem-should-matter-to-the-rest-of-us.  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.

THIS Is Why We Do DRAWINGS!

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: www.csinet.org/certification

Registration link:  https://webportal.csinet.org/Conference/RegistrationProcessOverview.aspx?id=80

  • 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: www.csinet.org/cdt

  • 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: www.csinet.org/pdpg

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: www.csinet.org/ccs

CCCA information: www.csinet.org/ccca

CCPR information: www.csinet.org/ccpr

  • This is the last year this exam will be based on the Project Resource Manual (www.csinet.org/prm)

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! www.csinet.org/joincsi

There’s a Place for That!

I’ve been so busy, I’m weeks late with following up on a post my colleague and I put together and published on the blog of the firm she works for!  Busy is good, but work can be SO distracting.

Morayma Salas, a client, personal friend, former coworker, and fellow Denver Chapter CSI member, came up with the idea for this article and did most of the surveying of construction professionals, and then I wrote it.

Here’s the ending of our article: “Architects are often extremely creative people who like to do things their own way.  However, following the rules about placement of information doesn’t take creativity away from the design process.  Following the rules actually frees up more time to be creative with the things that should be part of the design process.  So don’t waste your time getting creative with naming parts of your specs or placement of information!  Follow CSI’s standards for locating information and apply the time you save to the design your projects.”

Here’s a link to the whole post, “Architects, There’s a Place for That: SectionFormat & PageFormat,” on the Hutton Architecture Studio Blog: http://huttonarch.wordpress.com/2011/11/16/architects-there%e2%80%99s-a-place-for-that-sectionformat-pageformat/