15 June 2015

Under-specifying - less is not always more

Singing Ringing Tree. A 3-metre tall
structure of stacked galvanized steel pipes.
(c) David Dixon
One of my favorite tales I use when teaching about specifications happened to me shortly after I took my first job as a specifier, at the University of Minnesota. Prior to taking this job, the sum total of my experience with specifications consisted of copying specifications onto drawing sheets. This activity was presented to me as little more than a mindless job, a necessary evil that was to be done as quickly as possible, with no explanation of what specifications are. As you might expect, there was no mention of CSI, MasterFormat, or SectionFormat.

This seminal event in my life as a specifier took place within a few weeks of starting my new job. It started with a phone call from one of the construction administrators.

"The contractor wants to know what kind of pipe we want for the bollards."

I didn't know, but I was sure it was in the specifications, so I responded, "It's in the specs, isn't it?" (Brilliant, don't you think?)

09 February 2015

Furnish, install, or provide?

Most architects, I believe, define the terms furnish (or supply), install, and provide, and sometimes those definitions appear in an owner's general conditions. When defined, they are part of the contract documents, and requirements using them are enforceable based on those definitions. In practice, perhaps because the definitions are nearly ubiquitous, I have had few problems with interpretation by contractors, or with enforcement.

Oddly, it's architects who seem to have the most trouble understanding and using these definitions, even though the definitions originate in the architect's own office.

26 January 2015

The importance of being earnest

Importance of Being Earnest, Wikimedia
A couple of months ago, in "Your slip is showing!", I mentioned that I had been specifying slip resistance for a very long time, but only recently became aware of a serious problem: Even though codes other regulations require a "slip-resistant" finish, there is no definition of what that means. I encountered a similar situation recently while reviewing the titles of the many standards cited in our specifications: I discovered that ANSI (American National Standards Institute) produces no standards!

While looking up hardware standards, I saw reference standards with the number 115 in virtually every hardware and hollow metal specification I found. Sometimes the 115 was preceded with an A, other times not. But it's only one letter; what's the big deal if it has an A or not?

19 January 2015

Rules of thumb

Drafter at work; Wikimedia
A huge problem that continues to grow is that we have too much information. When American architects formed AIA, 150 years ago, construction was much simpler; mechanical systems hadn't changed much since the Romans used them 2,000 years ago. Since then, countless new materials and processes have been introduced.

Life was simple for architects of those early years, much of their time being spent detailing ornamentation. In 1905, a local university building of 112,000 square feet was built using a steel frame, with brick, marble, granite, and terra cotta. The construction documents comprised 58 drawing sheets and a 51 page project manual. By today's standard practice, hundreds of pages of drawings and a project manual of at least two volumes.