Whose intent is this anyway?

David Bishton, RA, CSI, CCS, CCCA, as Southwest Region CSI Editor, asks: "But how the heck does a contractor or supplier or installer of materials know what the intent is when they are bidding or building a project, unless it is carefully explained?"


Can drawings convey intent? They show size, relationships, quantity. Drawings cannot tell the full story about why the drawing is even required in the first place. Other documents are required, but what might they be?

Specifications for one
Specifications are numbered and titled according to MasterFormat. The introduction to MasterFormat tells us the numbers and titles in the format are classified by Work Results. Think about it folks, the specifications are supposed to specify work results--the physical embodiment of the design intent.

Scan the spec and find the heading labeled Work Results to learn what the architect really wants. "What?" you say! It doesn't exist. You look again, thinking it must be there. But, sadly, it is not--a missed opportunity to standardize and encourage its use--something to be corrected, I think.

There must be a place; there must be a way! Explaining intent is not something new. 

Open the project specifications to any technical section. What is the first article in the document? Summary or Section Includes--seems the perfect location to specify the architect's intent to me.

But look at the content. That article is a simple list of primary products that are specified in the section. There is no clue about how they are used or where they are used. A list of products does not describe work results and certainly cannot convey intent. Hold that thought.

Preliminary Project Description (PPD) for another
PPDs describe systems and assemblies, or functional elements, in a building. These elements are work results--floor construction, exterior wall, interior partition. Each element may be a collection of products and may be specified in multiple construction spec sections, but the element is described as a single entity in PPDs. These PPD elements align with the intelligent objects placed in BIM models.

Potential Solutions
Let's bend some rules. Specify work results.
Let's actually think about what we write in a specification summary article. Let's describe work results. The text we add may be the element descriptions from the PPD to explain the intent, followed by the product list for the items included in the section. When you open the masonry section and read the first sentence, you will know the project includes:

Brick veneer cladding on an insulated cavity wall with CMU backup at the lower level exterior walls.

This is a work result! The intent is clearly conveyed. The contractor will have an image of what will be specified in the section rather than just a list of products.

Keep bending but don't break
Consider including the PPD as information for the contractors. A PPD can be treated the same way as a geotechnical report--information that is not a contractual requirement. MasterFormat lists Section 00 31 00 Available Project Information that contains a variety of documents meant to aid the contractor understand the project conditions, primarily for preparing bids. It seems that understanding the design intent is essential for an accurate bid. So let's share the PPD and allow the contractor to benefit from all the design effort, too.

Let's Debate!
Specifications must help contractors quickly grasp and understand the intent. Otherwise the work results will never meet expectations--falling short of the Architect's design intent.

Specifiers must respond. How do you specify intent? Do you even try?

I want to hear from you and carry your ideas to the CONSTRUCTShow in Phoenix where I will present an educational session titled: "But that's not what I meant - Specifying the architect's intent."

If you will be in Phoenix, I ask you to join me, continue the debate, and help answer David's question.

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