When I was in school, the subject we talked least about, but since being out of school I wished I had known the most about – Specifications, aka “Specs.” These documents literally become binding contracts to the designs we create and if they don’t align with your designs – your designs won’t be created per your vision. None of us want that. The formal definition of Specifications are “that portion of the Contract Documents consisting of the written requirements for materials, equipment, systems, standards and workmanship for the Work, and performance of related services,” according to the AIA Document A201-2007, the General Conditions of the Contract for Construction.

Most designers out of school will open a specification manual and say they are “scary” as one designer told me.  For visual learners, as most of us are, the technical and regimented type of writing in the specification manual can lead many to say “It’s all Geek to me!” And it was to me too, until I sat down with the speciation manual and started to wrap my head around it and start to get familiar with the verbiage of the document. Once I dove into it years ago, I finally realized how crucial those specs can be to a project.

Today the Project manager on the architectural side and me as the lead designer sat down and spent a large portion of the day going through our projects specification manual reviewing most of the divisions/sections (can be up to 50 on a project).

In a lot of larger architectural offices like ours, there are designated Spec writers that just create these many paged contract documents full time – with us feeding them the right information. So it was our responsibility to review it and make sure that what was there is what we wanted and that they aligned with the drawings. What was most important on this project – which is out of the country, was to make sure that our specs transferred internationally – especially when it came to stating manufacturers and building standards that the contractor had to maintain. For instance, we typically use a lot of Sherwin Williams paint or American Standard plumbing fixtures – neither are available where our project is. After our review we had a number of items (“redlines”) that had to be changed before the day of delivery to the Owner.

It’s another item I didn’t know I would be spending much time doing while studying design in school – but one I do often.


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