Thursday, March 18, 2010
Around The Office

Who are the specifiers of today? Many are viewed as reformed hippies from the 60’s or early 70’s, generally over the age of 50. Although my hair is not long, do not have a ponytail, I am a product of that era. As an “In-House” specifier I work with the Project Managers and Architects on a wide variety of projects. Preparing the specifications for these projects is a subversive activity and I ensure that the Project Manual contains requirements to protect our client, ensure worker safety, a healthy environment, and that the facility is of a quality that will allow it to endure.

While the prime concerns for most architects are being paid, limiting professional liability, and aesthetics, in that order, the specifier is consumed with a thirst for knowledge. Many younger architects make the mistake of thinking they can cite some historic precedent and convince me to agree with their ill-fated designs. Since the mind of the specifier is filled with ASTM numbers, code requirements, and knowledge borne out of personal experience, this tack is folly. Some architects attempt to play a “trump card” by saying, “this is what the client wants” erroneously thinking that money and client desires motivate me beyond what is best for the project. If pressed, the ultimate response will be, “it’s your seal that’s on the documents and if that’s what you want, I’ll be happy to give it to you. Of course, I’ll need you to sign this letter stating that I advised you and that I recommended against this approach, that you’re willing to accept all responsibility for this decision and sacrifice your first-born.” At this point the discussion ends.

While the average person’s brain is described as having a right and left side, the specifier’s brain has a front and back. The front is where they keep important information, neatly organized and classified by subject matter (usually by MasterFormat’04 number), and have the ability to sort these vast quantities of information from a variety of perspectives. That’s the part of the brain that is needed to have any hope of approaching perfection in one’s professional work. In contrast, the back of the specifier’s brain looks a lot like your back hall closet, with unimportant information piled up haphazardly, so that when you open the door, all the stuff just pours out.

Specifiers also come in two flavors, licensed design professionals who have chosen specifications consulting as a specialty practice of their profession, and the self-educated specifier who proudly proclaims that they have attended the “school of hard knocks.” While most specifiers, regardless of their pedigree, have post-doctoral degrees from this prestigious institution, the chief difference between these two groups is that while both are concerned with the technical requirements of a project, the former are more interested in the integration of both the art and science of building design. As a person of ‘middle maturity’ I fit into both categories. As a licensed Architect and a Certified Construction Specifier, my perspective on the process is full circle, producing the written documents that best serve our clients and their projects.