specifications – why they matter

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Architecture produces a lot of paper. And I mean, a lot. And if you’re working on a LEED project?….Forget about it. You’re going to kill at least a few thousand trees just documenting your points for certification. And all of it, every scrap, is important. There are proposals, contracts, sketches, drawings, specifications, addenda, ASIs, Change Orders, RFIs, RFQs, RFPs, submittals, transmittals, memos and even emails. All of this paper is part of what eventually will dictate what your building looks like. But the two most important, other than the contract, are the drawings and specifications.

There are two things that the architect and contractor are concerned about when properly detailing and then pricing and eventually building a particular project: Quantity and Quality.

The drawings represent the Quantity, or the pictorial representation of the building. The site plan, floor plans, elevations, building sections, details, etc. The drawings give the contractor a visual representation of how the building should go together and how much of each part he’ll need in order to get the job done. Now, to some degree, the drawings also represent a level of quality that the contractor is to adhere to. This is mostly evident in the building sections, wall sections, details and framing plans where the architect will depict particular ways of assembly for various pieces and parts of the project. Some of these will be visible while others won’t. But they are all important.

But when it comes to the true Quality of the project, the specifications are where it’s at. And, to me, the specifications can make or break a project. And specifications, like the contract and drawings, becomes a part of the Contract Documents, which are the legally binding agreements between Owner, Architect and eventually the Contractor. These specifications outline the products to be used, the acceptable manufacturers and/or level of performance to be met, warranty information, procedures for testing and evaluation, mock-up requirements, sizes and installation requirements. So, not only do they need to look good, they need to read good as well. And, yes, I’m aware of the horrible grammar in that last sentence.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to specifications and how they are crafted – book format and sheet format. This means that the specifications are either in the format of a book type document (8.5 x 11) or sheet format in which case they are a part of the drawing set. I’m not partial to either. Each is acceptable depending on the type of project you’re working on. Though, in my office almost every specification, even small residential projects, will have a book specification that accompanies the drawings. It’s not necessarily right or wrong it’s just our preferred way of doing things.

Whatever format your specifications are in they need to be clear, inclusive of the materials and finishes necessary for your project, and they need to be carefully proof-read by more than one set of eyes familiar with the project. Lastly, since the specifications outline the quality expected on your project, they need to be READ BY THE CONTRACTOR. This seems to be a more and more difficult request lately. Unfortunate, but true.

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2 thoughts on “specifications – why they matter

    • haha! I feel your pain, Bob! Our office has gotten to the point where we’ve burned so much time in CA putting out fires set by the contractor that if we get a submittal that doesn’t adhere to our specification we simply reject it and send it back. We’ve reached the “all or nothing” point.
      Our next pre construction meeting is going to be so much fun when we sit down, flip open the spec to page one and just start reading the damn thing out loud. 😛

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