Which Contract Document is Most Important?

Construction contract documents include the Agreement, the Conditions of Contract, the Drawings, and the Specifications. Because of the legal implications, owners produce the Agreement and the Conditions. Architects are responsible for producing the Drawings and the Specifications. Do they carry equal importance?
Construction contract documents include the Agreement, the Conditions of Contract, the Drawings, and the Specifications. Because of the legal implications, owners produce the Agreement and the Conditions. Architects are responsible for producing the Drawings and the Specifications. Do they carry equal importance?

AIA General Conditions state the contract documents are complementary. None of the contract documents has greater value than another - no precedence is given. But during design there is a decidedly lopsided emphasis on drawings. Perhaps because drawings embody the design aesthetic, perhaps because architects are visual creatures, perhaps because of the schooling and training architects receive, perhaps because that is how it always has been.

Emphasis on Drawings
Architects begin design with sketches to develop concepts and the preliminary design for the ultimate construction. The initial sketches will show basic form and mass and relationship to the building site and surrounds. The architect uses these sketches to discuss and gain approval of the concepts from the owner.

As the design progresses, architects add more detail and substance to the sketches. The forms will be refined, basic materials will be selected, and systems will be identified. The results of these early decisions will be shown on the schematic drawings. The owner will approve the schematic drawings so the architect may continue to the design development phase.

The process is repeated during the design development and construction documents phases until the construction documents are ready for bidding and construction. More refinement, more detail, will be added as the design drawings are completed.

The initial set of concept drawings may be a few sheets. The final construction drawings may number several hundred with enormous time and effort required to produce each final sheet.

Architects Owe More than Drawings
AIA Owner-Architect agreements require the architect to produce outline specifications during the design development phase and specifications during the construction documents phase.

Unlike drawings, specifications are produced in a concentrated effort, near completion of the design development and construction documents phases. Why is this? Specifications document completed design decisions. Specifications are less iterative - less subject to complete reversal - than drawings. As a result, specifications require less time to produce than drawings.

For sake of discussion let's consider the relative costs to produce drawings and specifications for a new building with a $10 million construction budget, the architect's fee might be $1 million (Yes, it's hypothetical to make a point). Of that fee, approximately $700,000 or 70 percent will be spent on design phases to produce the construction documents. The remainder will be spent on bidding and construction administration phases.

The concentrated effort to produce specifications minimizes the time required compared to the effort needed to produce the drawings. The cost to produce the specifications will undoubtedly be less than 5 percent of the total spent on construction documents.

Specifications - the Other Contract Document
If drawings are the silver standard of construction documents, then specifications are the platinum standard. The relative value is based on the time and effort required to produce documents of equal importance under construction agreements.

To reach the platinum standard for every project:

1.    Specifications must be produced by highly qualified staff or consultants.  

2.    Specifications must be produced extremely efficiently.

3.    Specifications must be produced to avoid rework.

Qualified specifiers' data gathering, analyzing, and organizing skills add value to the project and helps educate the team in building science and materials technology. Data gathering includes asking questions and guiding the design team to the right answers - answers that are documented in the specifications.

Specifiers must employ tools to automate and optimize the editing and quality assurance processes used to produce the specifications. Entirely manual processes take too much time and lead to errors and inconsistencies requiring additional time to correct when discovered.

Specifiers must use master guide documents and tools that accommodate multiple uses - outline and construction specifications - without the need to recreate documented design decisions. Separate guide documents for outline and construction specifications require repetitive editing and additional unnecessary time to create the construction documents.

Help us celebrate SPECtember and tell us why you think specifications are important.

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