Feeding Your Specifier (and Project Team)

What is it that your specifier really needs? There was, once upon a time, an easy explanation. Just give me a set of drawings that you would turn in for your architectural licensing exam. For anyone that took the exam when it included a 12-hour design problem, this was enough of an explanation. Today, this explanation has no relevancy. So let me explain…

Early in design, architects work eagerly to establish layout, both plan and elevation, to ensure the owner's program and imagery are satisfied. As design progresses, the layout is refined, often - a rearrangement here, a tweak there. And eventually the layout is settled. It's a compromise that meets the building code and is acceptable to the owner.

When it's time to start the specifications during Design Development (according to AIA Document B101 - Owner-Architect Agreement), the drawings must identify more than the layout. Layout does little to define project systems and materials.

In starting a new mixed use apartment project, the architect provided the completed Schematic Design plans and elevations. The drawings were noted to show room names, room numbers, even partition types. The apartment kitchen and bathroom elevations were drawn. The wall types and doors were scheduled. So what was missing?

There was not one typical wall section showing the building envelope construction. There was no information about the roof construction. The building envelope is the primary source of lawsuits against architects. The building elements with the greatest risk were undefined, except by layout - the roof plan and the building elevations.

Most of the necessary information about the building envelope was extracted from the architect's mind during the initial inquisition, ahem…interview. But none of this is documented anywhere, except in my meeting notes. Now, thinking about this, what exactly did the construction manager's estimator price? The building is supposedly on budget, but does the information I have match what the estimator used? Who knows? Probably not!

This dilemma, this information discrepancy, is so easily solved. It takes only minutes. Sketch what the envelope construction is supposed to be. The sketch need not be a refined CAD or BIM drawing. Hand sketches will do, just fine. Identify and label each primary component. The intricate details, the intersections with other systems can be defined later. Just capture the essence of the design so details can be discussed and resolved as part of the design process. Your specifier may even be able to offer material and detail suggestions and some insight on how to best keep water out of your building.

Thinking back to the licensing exam, drawing requirements were pretty straightforward. Develop floor plans, building systems plans (structure and MEP), elevations, building sections, typical wall sections. Plus, label what was drawn. It was important to convey the design intent, graphically only. Oral design presentations were not even a consideration as part of the exam and should not be relied upon to convey important design decisions.

System or product selected? Document! Tell the entire design team (including your specifier), construction team, estimator(!), and owner what the design is rather than leaving it to their imagination.

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