I Hate Specs!

Have you found yourself thinking or possibly yelling, "I hate specs!" as though you have been cursed by the task? Then think about this:

"The writing of architects' specifications is a task approached by many with trepidation, by some with the careless confidence of ignorance and by a few with studious determination to succeed."

This quote is the opening paragraph of Goldwin Goldsmith, AIA's 1940 book "Architectural Specifications How to Write Them." Goldsmith states the quote is taken from "Ready Written Specifications" a series of 1918 lectures presented by Holland and Parker.

So What's the Point?
The quote is nearly a century old, but is still applicable today. Many things in the construction industry have changed during the last century - materials, technology, and knowledge of building science. However, some things remain the same. Many architects view specs with disdain - a dreaded chore rather than a necessary part of design.

Commercial master specifications such as MasterSpec, SpecText, and Speclink were not available to Goldsmith. His specifications were hand crafted for each project. Did he reuse previous project specs? No. He created master specification clauses from which he could draw to write project specifications - the same approach commercial masters offer.

Today, most specifiers rely on commercial master specifications to create project specifications. There is an inherent danger in this practice. The apparent simplicity of deleting what does not apply can easily contribute to careless confidence of ignorance.

Casual or occasional project specifiers are not writing their own master clauses like Goldsmith. These specifiers do not engage in the same degree of research and resulting understanding of construction materials and systems that is required to develop and maintain master clauses. This responsibility is delegated to others that are producing the commercial masters.

The Distinction Is Important
When specifiers do not know why clauses exist in commercial masters, the clauses may be edited incorrectly. Lists of manufacturers and products offered in commercial masters, while convenient, may not be correct or appropriate for a particular project. These products may not be able to meet the specifications once the masters are edited for a project.

Careless confidence of ignorance can create unintended results. At the very least, architects may be required to explain what the specs mean during a project meeting in a trailer filled with contractors. The result may well be a Change Order.

Be determined to succeed at writing specifications. Do your own research to understand the master specifications you use. Know why each clause exists. Record the results as notes in your own office masters to help others understand, too. Then read the notes every time when creating project specifications rather than relying on memory. Make informed decisions.

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