Few people actually get excited when it comes to specifications, other than specification writers, but it’s hard to ignore just how important they are when it comes to achieving a successful project. For those that might not know what specifications are, they are a part of the construction documents – written rather than drawn – and they define the technical information of products as well as their installation requirements and procedures. Titillating, I know, but they might actually be the most important component to the construction documents and for that reason, I thought it was time to focus on them for the current installment of Residential Architecture 101 – Specifications.
Since starting the Residential Studio at BOKA Powell, I am getting to do things that I never thought would be possible when I decided to join a 100-person firm. I just assumed that I would have to conform to the time-honored and honed practices that were in place at a larger firm and as a result, have been incredibly pleased that I am getting to literally invent how we move forward with how we provide our services (another reason I have been so happy with the decision to join this particular firm). We have 4 residential projects underway and we have been using the first of these projects as the case study that will shape how all the residential projects will move forward. As a result, we have been working on developing project specifications that can be the core of most residential projects and then come back in and surgically add and delete the appropriate information to create a fuller and more complete picture.
Doesn’t that all sound like terrific fun? No? Well … it’s still important and requires all the attention we provide it. Let’s start with something that might appear more familiar – a typical window detail.
Other than the fact that this detail has pretty solid use of lineweight, it’s a detail that I’m sure most of us have seen many times in our careers. As a side note, I am also getting to modify how our drawings look – at least on the residential projects. There is an argument to be made that we need to prepare drawings that cater to the residential contractor market and not the commercial contractor.
I include this detail above because while the drawing is still in development, it articulates most of the considerations that we need for all the parts and pieces that “compose” this assembly. However, there is actually a lot of information that is missing from this detail, and that is where the project specifications come into play. Let’s take look at this same detail but I will highlight all the notes that contain additional information covered within the project specifications.
Yep … pretty much every single note has additional information that is covered within the project specifications. While this is not always the case, it does set me up for the rest of the conversation within today’s post.
For commercial projects, project specification manuals are expected – required even. The thought that a commercial project could be sent out without a spec manual quite honestly makes me break out into a slightly annoying mild sweat. However, that is not the case with residential projects. If I were to issue a commercial-style spec manual of 450+ A4 size pages, I would likely scare potential residential contractors away. For more than 15 years, the practice in the offices where I worked was to issue a short-form specification “booklet” that was around 15 pages in length. (This isn’t a post on what Outline specifications and short-form specs consist of, just imagine that the short-form version is … shorter.)
The problem with issuing a booklet of specifications is that they were frequently not distributed to the subcontractors along with the drawn portion of the documents. That’s easy enough to deal with because we can include the specifications within our drawing package. Let’s take a look at how an (almost) entire set of residential specifications manifest themselves on a residential project.
The pages I am showing here are 30″ x 42″ (Arch E1 size) and the specifications will fit on three pages. We are still working through which specification sections we will be including as part of our core package and I know that we are still missing a few that are specific to this project. We are also exploring how the specs will look on the page, examining things like font size, all caps versus traditional sentence structure, bolding sections titles, etc.
I can imagine that there are a few of you that would like nothing better than to click on the image above and enlarge that image so you could critique the work we’ve prepared so far. While I enjoy the thought of that as much as the next masochist, I decided I would only give you a small taste by allowing you to only click on the next image. I look forward to your intense review and feedback [sarcasm – I am not looking forward to it]
This short-form specification is seen as an extremely helpful tool to aid and assist the contractors working on our projects to understand what it is that we want from them during the construction process. These will help them answer questions on what products to use, the components within the assemblies, the items that will require samples or shop drawings, etc. It is our intent to allow the contractors we work with to focus on being a member of the entire architect-owner-contractor team rather than just expect them to be able to read our minds and know what we want from them.
Residential Architecture 101 – Specifications
Specifications are a critical part of the entire construction documents package that is prepared for any of our projects – so it only makes sense that we would develop them for our residential work. The balance we are trying to achieve is how much makes sense? There is clearly a balance we are trying to find between what is helpful and what could become burdensome to the contractor. The contractors that work on our projects do not typically have the same level of office-support manpower that commercial contractors have access to. These are a work in progress and we will enthusiastically engage our contractors to find out what works and what does not work. It isn’t rocket science and our objectives are to help everyone understand the objectives the owner wishes to achieve, and that will require a dialog. If you have thoughts, please feel free to share them in the comments section below.
There are a number of posts that are part of the Residential Architect 101 series – you can find them all here