Specs Must State the Architect's Intent

"Why is it that Architects specify 'Intent' and can not specify what products they require? I have a real problem trying to price an Architect's intent." This statement started a discussion on LinkedIn. The message was that the Architect's Intent is nebulous leaving serious questions about what is actually required.

The CSI Specifying Practice Group took up the discussion. I submitted that architects have a duty to specify their intent so contractors know exactly what is required.

Specification sections typically begin with a Summary article and a "Section Includes" statement. Section Includes has been relegated to a simple list of materials, products, and assemblies that are contained within the each section. These lists offer no insight as to intent.

CSI's MasterFormat® states the specifications master list of numbers and titles is classified by work results, not by products. Logically, one could expect specifications organized by MasterFormat® to specify work results. So I propose to replace those Section Includes product lists with statements of the Architect's Intent to describe the required work results.

Specifiers are likely the best ones suited to the task. The specifier infers and confirms the intent through the writing process. Specifiers review drawings, interview the architect, take notes, and collect data. Then specifiers restate the intent as specified requirements.

Stating intent with short explicit descriptions will paint a mental picture drawn from the reader's experience. The association with previous experience will allow instant understanding and will promote better retention.

I proposed the Architect's Intent statements should be constructed with three elements and in the following order:
1. What product will be installed.
2. How the product will be installed.
3. Where the product will be installed.

Now back to Section Includes. For unit masonry, I propose replacing the list of products with the Architect's Intent:

Section Includes: Face brick veneer with CMU backup at exterior cavity walls.

Got the picture? So will the contractor's estimator, the contractor's field superintendent, and the A/E's contract administrator. The intent is clear. And the intent, through the mental image, infers, by experience, the other components that will be required to complete a cavity wall, without listing each product.

Section Includes cannot capture every nuance of the project. Most projects do have drawings, and sometimes they actually help. (Every time I say that, I must think of a client, Paul Lyons. As I was writing the very first job for Paul 10 years ago, he told me, "Dave, I don't care what the drawings say. Give me a good spec and I will get what I want.") I try to capture the essence of the design as the Architect's Intent. If there are two different types of brick veneer construction, I would write an intent statement about both. Cavity wall and composite wall, for instance, will be used in different location and will invoke different mental images.

Positively specify what is required instead of specifying by exception and the dreaded "unless otherwise indicated." When making notes about a project before beginning to specify, I search for the common and the unusual. The common are easy to recognize because they are pervasive and usually have details devoted just to that condition. The unusual may be designated by a note, with no detail provided.

Write the Section Includes by the adage "the least shall be first." Specify the unusual first and finish with the common. The reasoning is that the common condition may be simplified to products that are installed at "other locations." This approach is borrowed from law and is known as the "residuary legatee."

As an analogy, think of the executor reading the dearly departed's will. The will starts by leaving the car to the son, the yacht to the daughter and everything else to the family cat. The least and specific items were cited first. As a result, there is no need to cite every item that will be left to the cat and risk the possibility of missing something.

Harold Rosen described how the concept applies to specifications in his 1974 book "Construction Specifications Writing Principles and Procedures." Rosen offers as one example in specifying concrete:

2500 psi concrete - concrete foundations
3000 psi concrete - concrete pavements
3500 psi concrete - all other concrete work

Then Rosen states: "If this method is followed, some material will always be specified for every part of the building, whereas any other plan obliges the specifier to check all his listings most carefully for fear of not including some minor portion."

Try constructing these statements of intent. It will take practice, patience, and probably multiple edits to get the intent right. But once stated correctly, the work results and the Architect's Intent for each spec section will clear.

CSI's Specifying Practice Group
First Thursday of the month, 3:00 - 4:00 PM eastern.

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