Liz O'Sullivan Architecture, LLC - Architectural Specifications 

Check out the blog Comments from a Spec Writer for a spec writer's and architect's thoughts on current issues.

For general info on specifications, and info about CSI National, check out the Construction Specifications Institute.

Check out the Denver Chapter of the Construction Specifications Institute.

For info on architecture, check out the American Institute of Architects.

For info on specifications consultants, check out Specifications Consultants in Independent Practice

What are we doing with our lives as design professionals?  
What is the goal of the Project Team (owner, contractor, design team)?  

Our goal is to get a building built!   

What is the role of the design team in achieving this goal?  

Our role is communication!  
Our specific role is interpreting the owner’s wishes for his building, and communicating the design intent to the contractor.   

What is the goal of the specifier?  

The spec writer's goal is good specs!  
The goal of the specifier should be the production of good specifications that help to convey the design intent to the contractor.    

The specs and the drawings must be coordinated with each other. Our documents should be unambiguous, understandable, enforceable. This is best for everyone:   

Good specs are best for the bidders. The bidders know that if there are no ambiguities, and a sub of theirs submits a bid with all kinds of exclusions and qualifications, they can use a different sub. If there are ambiguities, and a sub of theirs submits a bid with exclusions and qualifications and doesn’t meet the specs, they’ll just take the bid, and argue later (with the architect, not with the sub), because if they don’t take that sub, they know that their competitors will, and they will lose out on the job.   

Good specs are best for the contractor who gets the project. He’ll know what’s expected, and will be able to just get down to the job of building. There will be less conflict between contractor and subs, and less conflict between contractor and architect, with good specs.   

Good specs are best for the owner. It’s most fair during bidding, it levels the bidder playing field, and produces the most accurate bids, which are going to be tighter bids (lower bids and closer-together bids). It also makes what the owner’s buying very clear to the owner.   

Good specs are best for you, the architect. The specs complement the drawings and have some protections for you. If every time the contractor looks at the specs, he reads something that makes sense and is coordinated with the drawings, he will continue to refer to the specs. If every time the contractor looks at the specs, he reads something that doesn’t apply to the project, or does apply but isn’t coordinated with the drawings, or might apply but is in conflict with the General Conditions of the Contract, the Project Manual becomes nothing but a paperweight. If the contractor is not looking at the specs, arguments between the contractor and architect are inevitable. Good specs will lead to a much smoother construction contract administration process for you.

In Denver's market, construction work is not usually performed to the highest of trade standards, so if your intent is for something better than the norm around here, the specifications are your way to communicate the expected quality of the finished product. The specs allow the design team to communicate the best way to handle specific installations and products. The drawings communicate the required quantity, the specs indicate the required quality

What are some Process-Related Philosophies of Spec Writers?

The Specs are legally enforceable contract documents, (so are the drawings), and need to be prepared carefully. The Construction Specifications Institute, CSI,  has a 4 C’s concept for specifications: clear, concise, correct, complete. (That means: use proper grammar and simple sentence construction to avoid ambiguity; eliminate unnecessary words, but not at the expense of clarity, correctness, or completeness; present information accurately and precisely and carefully select words that convey exact meaning; do not leave out important information.)  

If there's no "wiggle room" in the specs for anyone – not for you (the architect) and not for the contractor - this ultimately benefits everyone. 

Your spec writer should be able to explain everything in the spec to you, so if the contractor needs something in the spec explained, and you can’t do it, ask your spec writer to explain it to you so you can explain it to the contractor.   

There is a fundamental CSI principle of stating information once and in its correct location. Each document, written or graphic, has a specific purpose and should be used for that purpose. Each requirement should be stated only once, and in the correct location. Information in one document should not be repeated in other documents. Spec writers usually subscribe to this philosophy, which is explained simply in other words, “Say it once and in the right place.”    

Improving construction communication is a goal of CSI, and it’s a personal goal of many spec writers. There’s a lot of room for improvement in construction communication! This should be an easily achieved goal. With improved communication in the form of better specs, and more coordinated documents, we’ll be on the road to improving not only the bidding and construction processes, but also the built environment. Well-coordinated and correct contract documents minimize the potential for conflicts and the need for interpretations and modifications, so more time can be spent on getting the building built well. Which, of course, is the goal of the Project Team.

Communication is the key to your good working relationship with your spec writer, too. Your spec writer is usually doing his or her best to read the architect's mind, but that only works part of the time!
Give your spec writer all the information that you think he or she might need to write the most accurate specs possible. Listen to your spec writer if he or she has advice about your drawings. Together, we can improve the process of construction, and ultimately, through this smoother process, we can help improve our built environment.

Answers for architects... from a spec writer

Answers from a Spec Writer