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Richard Gonser AIA CSI CCCA SCIP
Senior Member
Username: rich_gonser

Post Number: 80
Registered: 11-2008
Posted on Tuesday, October 07, 2014 - 05:40 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Recently at our SCIP meeting in Baltimore the question was asked; "where are all the young architects willing to do specifications?" And; "How do we replace ourselves?" We had a discussion that one of the weak points is education at the college level. Others suggested we need to educate the young professionals already graduated. Even others thought to expand this into the community colleges and high schools. All have valid points.

I was fool enough to voice a suggestion as to creating syllabus sponsored by our organization and follow that on with a education program. So guess who got volunteered to head a committee on this! A few did also volunteer to assist this group. I think we'll have a great crew.

The resulting suggestions ranged in multiple solutions:
1. Develop a post graduate seminar program for young professionals working in offices.
2. Develop a university architectural program where the technical education is weakest. I had a brief discussion with a local professor who agrees wholeheartedly.
3. Develop a program for community colleges. Many students now are going to theses two year schools and transferring into the professional programs.
4. Create a program for Construction Management degree programs. This is where the technical interest may come from. (Unfortunately)

How does all this get out? There will be a few ways.
1. Seminars hosted by SCIP members and local Specifiers (affiliate members). This can be one-day Saturday events, or more appropriately a few Saturdays and/or evenings to give it enough depth.
2. A written syllabus and program for academia.
3. YouTube webinars with a single or even multiple SCIP members doing particular subjects. But are we pretty enough...?

So the first step is to collect as much material has already been generated. I recall from earlier discussions on this 4specs forum that many here had developed a variety of educational programs that they were willing to share. So if you could be so inclined to kick off those dust bunnies and send those tools my way that would be great.

We will take these tools and distribute them in our committee and work on consolidating them into a cohesive whole. Then we can work on identifying possible gaps and updating elements into a complete program. From all this information, the committee can work on creating the class support materials. And finally, we can figure out the best way to disseminate it.

As always in this forum, all ideas are welcome.

You can send to me directly at:
Curt Norton, CSI, CCS
Senior Member
Username: curtn

Post Number: 181
Registered: 06-2002

Posted on Wednesday, October 08, 2014 - 08:23 am:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Rich, I forget what year it was (maybe 10-12 years ago) but I worked on a national CSI committee to develop a curriculum for teaching specification writing. Is there any interest in working with Institute to update that program in a joint effort?

Depending on your timeline, I would be happy to help you out.
Richard Gonser AIA CSI CCCA SCIP
Senior Member
Username: rich_gonser

Post Number: 81
Registered: 11-2008
Posted on Wednesday, October 08, 2014 - 12:23 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

There no timeline at this juncture.

Right now, we are in a survey-collection phase to determine what is out there and how can we create/change/improve/promote it.

Obviously, this has been a subject of discussion in a few circles. The question then becomes; why has it not had an impact?
Sheldon Wolfe
Senior Member
Username: sheldon_wolfe

Post Number: 795
Registered: 01-2003

Posted on Wednesday, October 08, 2014 - 12:26 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Nothing new here; the question "Where will new specifiers come from?" has been with us since specifying was recognized as a separate job.

I doubt that many design students (architecture, engineering, or interior design) would be interested, and the colleges even less so. However, getting something, anything, about specifications into the college curriculum can only help.

As Curt notes, CSI has considered this sort of thing before, but I don't know if anything was produced.

My chapter has offered educational programs every year as long as I can remember. For a long time, we had two: one for those who simply want to learn about construction documents; the other a refresher for those preparing to take certification exams. Different formats have been used, from a single all-day presentation to a six-week series of evening seminars. I like the YouTube idea. Videos can be used in class or by individuals at any time.

This is an interesting time attempt this, as the role of the specifier may well change in the coming years, from word-pusher to database populator.
Ronald L. Geren, FCSI, AIA, CCS, CCCA, SCIP
Senior Member
Username: specman

Post Number: 1261
Registered: 03-2003

Posted on Wednesday, October 08, 2014 - 01:02 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Sheldon is correct. Until the schools of architecture (and engineering) place greater emphasis on specifications in their accreditation requirements, the schools won't add it to their curricula.

As it currently stands, the only requirement per NAAB is the ability to prepare outline specifications, which, even by CSI standards, is loosely defined.

On a brighter note, though, I teach specifications at Taliesin in my CDT course and was taken aback when NAAB listed preparing specifications as a shortcoming in our program during a past visit. When I asked about it, they said that the failure was not due to my course, but the lack of implementation of specifications in the comprehensive design studio. The comprehensive design studio is where students are to take what they have learned throughout their studies and integrate them into a single design project. Thus, our failure to require students to prepare outline specs for their comprehensive design studio projects was seen as noncompliance. We have since integrated outline specifications into our comprehensive design studio.
Ujjval Vyas Phd, JD, CDT (Unregistered Guest)
Unregistered guest
Posted on Wednesday, October 08, 2014 - 12:56 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

As we have discussed in at least one recent LinkedIn string, architecture schools don't even want to teach serious building sciences because it would impinge on the kinds of course work that they already believe is too important. Yes, there are occasional exceptions with individual professors, but trying to get to architectural schools is a fool's errand in my view. There are construction management programs that would be better suited to this activity but there is still too little knowledge of the construction world embodied in much of the CSI literature and it is too highly biased towards a worship of design and AIA. The importance of specifications is both real and crucial but this cannot be fulfilled until the organizations (CSI and SCIP) become bastions of real neutrality and objectivity for the good of the project as a whole. This means actually understanding the risks and realities of all the stakeholders equally so that the specifier's judgment can be exercised to the benefit of the project. A very difficult task indeed, but one worth pursuing and like the truth, the chips have to fall where they may without recourse to the shibboleths of the industry. It might be worth considering that specifiers in the future don't come at all from the realm of design in the same way that long ago a few doctors decided that repeating the current mumbo-jumbo needed to be replaced with the hard task of engaging a science-based medicine.
Dave Metzger
Senior Member
Username: davemetzger

Post Number: 542
Registered: 07-2001
Posted on Wednesday, October 08, 2014 - 01:42 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Let's not lose sight of the fact that teaching specifications in school can not be done with the intent of students graduating and immediately becoming specifiers. Students can learn how specifications are organized, and the place of specifications in the design and construction process; but without professional experience it's teaching in a vacuum, there is no context to really understand anything more than general concepts; certainly not the finer points of the profession. This is why SCIP members are mostly gray-hairs--specifying is an older person's profession. One needs years of experience, with design and construction contract administration, as a background before they can be a good specifier.

Specifiers need to understand the design process in order to become good specifiers. This doesn't need to imply a "worship" of design, but neither can it mean a denigration of design. Similarly, designers need to understand the technical (both constructability and building science) aspects of design in order to become good designers. If a building design has to be "compromised" in order to be buildable, that is the fault of the designer, not the specifier and engineers.
Edward J Dueppen, RA, CSI, CCS, LEED AP
Senior Member
Username: edueppen

Post Number: 13
Registered: 08-2013
Posted on Wednesday, October 08, 2014 - 01:57 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Dave - well stated. I wish there was a "like" button!
Ronald L. Geren, FCSI, AIA, CCS, CCCA, SCIP
Senior Member
Username: specman

Post Number: 1262
Registered: 03-2003

Posted on Wednesday, October 08, 2014 - 02:04 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Dave, a very good point.

Hence, the reason why "outline" specifications are the only NAAB requirement. I don't try to make specifiers out of my students, but I do emphasize the need to understand why we have specifications, how to find information in them, and how to interpret their requirements.

Writing outline specifications gives the students a basic understanding of what information is critical, and that "color and pattern" are not the only criteria to consider when selecting products and materials.
Tony Wolf, AIA, CCS, LEED-AP
Senior Member
Username: tony_wolf

Post Number: 69
Registered: 11-2007

Posted on Wednesday, October 08, 2014 - 02:09 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

You can't learn everything about design and construction in arch school. Few students envision life as a specifier. It's not until they have experienced the rough-and-tumble of the business for a few years, that they realize they need marketable skills and start considering alternatives to the mental "self-satisfying" that is emphasized in school. Learning form, color, contrast and scale, and all that similar stuff fed to them at school isn't objectionable, because if they don't learn to think of these things in school, they're unlikely to while working at a job. And, they can't study detailed technology without overall context. One of my profs, when asked, What's the purpose of arch school, replied It's to learn what architecture can be.

Our chapter every year conducts a scholarship competition program for senior students in one school. It's difficult to get more than 10 entries. And I don't think it's ever yielded a specifier or even a CSI member. Now its but a tradition of the chapter.

Bottom line: I believe we should focus on the young professional, conducting a competitive grants program for in-depth construction technology research. The best proposals would be given money to produce research. It doesn't have the same cache as "scholarship" but it's more aligned with how the world works.
Sheldon Wolfe
Senior Member
Username: sheldon_wolfe

Post Number: 796
Registered: 01-2003

Posted on Wednesday, October 08, 2014 - 06:14 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Tony, I doubt that anyone went to school to become a specifier; I certainly didn't. And, as Dave said, the experience required to do the job pretty much precludes anyone from doing it right away. It's not impossible, though; I have met a couple of very young specifiers who seem to know what they're doing. Or maybe they just look very young from my perspective...

In one forum or another, it may have been LinkedIn, I suggested having two types of architecture schools. One would be for the big-D designers, who think only at the big picture level. The other would be for the architects who will actually get things done, and want to know how things work, how they go together, how they perform, and all the other things that transform art to reality.

By the way, those who graduate from the first school would not be eligible for licensure. They, as so many architects today, learn only planning and presentation, and deserve to be licensed no more than any artist. It's not that they aren't important, but building codes exist to protect life safety, not art.
Lynn Javoroski FCSI CCS LEED® AP SCIP Affiliate
Senior Member
Username: lynn_javoroski

Post Number: 1900
Registered: 07-2002

Posted on Wednesday, October 08, 2014 - 06:17 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Colin Gilboy
Senior Member
Username: colin

Post Number: 383
Registered: 09-2005

Posted on Wednesday, October 08, 2014 - 06:20 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

When I was selling products I could generally spot a CalPoly trained architect or engineer. They asked me the right questions about code issues and how the product worked.
Colin Gilboy
Publisher, 4specs.com
435.200.5775 - Utah
Guest (Unregistered Guest)
Unregistered guest
Posted on Thursday, October 09, 2014 - 12:53 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Cal Poly's mantra is "learn by doing". I wish I had gone there instead of "Berserkley" but financial aid was the deciding factor.
Cynie Linton
Senior Member
Username: cynie_linton

Post Number: 27
Registered: 10-2010
Posted on Thursday, October 09, 2014 - 01:39 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

And another country heard from. True nobody goes to architecture school dreaming of becoming a specifier.

However I do not think that there should be two tracks/types of architectural training.

Big D design that does not perform in all of the technical ways it needs to, to be habitable, of the time, and moving is not worthy of the big D label.

Designers need to understand materials, fabrication, construction, building science, as well as have big D IDEAS.

One of the reasons I did go to architecture school (didn't know I would be a specifier) was that it appeared that there were many ways to practice/participate in the field. We need all kinds of thinkers and we need to respect and cultivate our different strengths.

Specifiers are interested in how things work, young designers do not know about the importance of specifications until they have to administer a job. Fertile ground for new young specifiers age 28-38, JMO. And I have taught design at the Boston Architectural College for 20 years.
Sheldon Wolfe
Senior Member
Username: sheldon_wolfe

Post Number: 797
Registered: 01-2003

Posted on Thursday, October 09, 2014 - 05:42 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Cynie, I don't think there should be two schools, either, but most US schools focus almost entirely on big-D issues, with little attention given to the more mundane things, like codes, constructability, and keeping the water out. Instead, they rely on on-the-job training to supply those things - which I consider far more important than appearance - after graduation.

The result, of course, is that people who didn't learn about how buildings work are teaching people who didn't learn about how buildings work.

It makes more sense to me that schools teach the practical aspects of architecture, and let the students learn design philosophy on the job. Start with what the client needs, add structure, then make it beautiful. Ideally, those things would be developed concurrently, at the same time keeping the weather out and using materials efficiently. I'm not saying design should be ignored, but working from the outside in is art, not architecture.

Vitruvius said good architecture requires three things: firmitas, utilitas, venustas - strength, usefulness, and beauty. Assuming we agree that is a fair assessment of what architecture is, doesn't it seem reasonable that schools would have a balanced approach, rather than concentrating on design theory and pretty pictures?
Michael Heinsdorf, P.E.
Senior Member
Username: michael_heinsdorf_pe

Post Number: 19
Registered: 01-2014
Posted on Friday, October 10, 2014 - 10:02 am:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

I'm going to go ahead and assume that as someone in my early thirties I'm one of the younger members of this board. Bear with me a bit as it involves some personal history, is mostly engineering related, and a soapbox...After 12 years in engineering, including a couple in the field running projects, I could have written all I knew about specifications on a page. Then I started working at MasterSpec and it's been humbling. I even went to a school that had (it's since been discontinued or replaced) an engineering curriculum that had a year of required English and other non-technical courses that were aimed at making the engineering graduate more well-rounded. We didn't talk about specifications once.

It wasn't until I got to a Master's program in Engineering Management that specifications were even discussed, and that was in Engineering Law, taught by a PE/JD. From a quick survey of MEM programs and engineering law courses, most engineering law courses taught by JD's and that's the only place specifications are taught.

This brings me to three of my soapboxes: (1) engineers and architects have historically done a terrible job at protecting the profession and are commoditizing themselves in a desperate race to the bottom, which drags along the attached professions; (2) schools and students are more interested in teaching the next engineer how to make the next Facebook than the next great piece of architecture, because that engineer is going to give them millions instead of a maybe a couple hundred; (3) lawyers have been all to quick to recognize a business opportunity and insert themselves into the engineering process (ever heard of "law review" or lawyers writing the specs? Its happening) and have set a legal precedent that the specifications override the drawings (FAR and "Contracts and the Legal Environment for Engineers and Architects," Bockrath and Plotnick, pg. 391).

Not to mention most engineers don't like to write.

That being said, there are a lot of engineers out there that are starting to "get it," especially as firms are getting more competitive for work and trying to hold on to employees. I've done some work with engineering firms who are interested in getting their employees up to speed on specifications, and I agree wholeheartedly with Cynie - you need to go after the 28-38 year old licensed professional. They get it, and understand how important it is, and most importantly, are going to be the future leaders of their architectural firms. They also have CEU requirements, and free webinars on specifications (sorry, while webinars are a great revenue source, free attracts significantly more people), such as a specification 101 is something that isn't out there, unless you are a MasterSpec client, to the best of my knowledge, and is something that should be.

My two cents.
Brian Payne, AIA
Senior Member
Username: brian_payne

Post Number: 54
Registered: 01-2014

Posted on Monday, October 13, 2014 - 08:10 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Go Cal Poly.....Pomona that is!
Louis Medcalf, FCSI, CCS
Senior Member
Username: louis_medcalf

Post Number: 35
Registered: 11-2010
Posted on Wednesday, October 15, 2014 - 04:02 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Offered without comment from The Contractor’s Guide to Change Orders by attorney Andrew Civitello:


Two factors increase the probability of errors in the documents:
1. The technical specifications are an architect’s secondary priority. Throughout the process of design development, specific thought had been given to the precise materials desired and their configuration. The design process is what the architect is best at. It is the process of bringing the initiated concept through detailed design that gives the architect the greatest satisfaction. It is only when the design is complete that the technical specifications and the contracts themselves are finally assembled. It is not the priority, but an unfortunate, tedious necessity, as far as the architect is concerned. It’s a second effort. It is for this reason that cut-and-paste is looked to not as the most effective method of comprehensive preparation of an important legal document, but as a fast, cheap way to get it over with.
2. The technical specifications and the front-end documents are assembled at the eleventh hour. The design process itself usually continues until the last possible moment. It is only when the deadline of the bid solicitation date looms that serious attention is diverted to completing the specification. The specifications then become likely to be … fit in between the “real” design work. What is worse, junior architects and even clerks may be enlisted to prepare certain portions of the documents.

[I cheated and read the opposing team's playbook ;->]
ken hercenberg
Senior Member
Username: khercenberg

Post Number: 830
Registered: 12-2006

Posted on Wednesday, October 15, 2014 - 04:26 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Thanks for sharing that Louis.

When I was teaching Specification Writing at the community college level, by far most of my students worked for contractors. When I took classes on how to avoid change orders, aimed at the A/E community, I was the only one from the design side. Everyone else was from the construction side.

I know you didn't mean it 'that way' but I consider the contractors worth working with on my side. The ones that do partner, and there are those that do, realize the benefits of a symbiotic relationship. The others get to feel the wrath of bad relationships during punch list.
John Regener, AIA, CCS, CCCA, CSI, SCIP
Senior Member
Username: john_regener

Post Number: 717
Registered: 04-2002

Posted on Thursday, October 16, 2014 - 03:54 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

I did some thinking about what a specifications writer does.

Primrily I prepare written construction contract document for design coordination, pricing (for budgeting and procurement), "permitting," and construction and for facility operation and maintenance. Oh, and also for getting certification of "Green" design.

Leading up to preparation of written construction conract documents is the process of product evaluation and selection. This is a process I am pulling back from because it makes me a design collaborator (co-conspirator?) rather than a mere technical writer. This function is a major reason a specification writer is hired: to compensate for the design professional's inadequacy to evaluate and select building products, including the many optional, project-specific characteristics.

Counseling. I spend a substantial amount of time assisting the design decision-maker in resolving design issues, including substitution requests, and constructability issues.

And the specification writer is involved in producing Bidding Requirements, Construction Contracts (Agreement Form, Conditions of the Contract and maybe Bonds and Insurance (see counseling, above). And also esoteric matters such as "Buy America" and other product sourcing issues.

What's the big deal? Just drop some design decisions and reference standards into a Ronco Spec-O'-Matic machine, turn the crank and out comes a SpeciFiction for the project, for the lowest possible fee. Even a Reviteer can do that.
So, who needs a spec writer?
Don Harris CSI, CCS, CCCA, AIA
Senior Member
Username: don_harris

Post Number: 279
Registered: 03-2003
Posted on Friday, October 17, 2014 - 02:57 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post


That book should be required reading for every architect. If not the whole book, at least Chapter 7. That chapter by itself will churn an architect's stomach more than any chainsaw movie ever could. I have succeeded in getting a few in my office to read it.
Nathan Woods, CSI, CCCA, LEED AP
Senior Member
Username: nwoods

Post Number: 602
Registered: 08-2005

Posted on Friday, October 17, 2014 - 04:34 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Ah yes, Chapter 7: "Prospecting for Change Orders and their Components"

I always feel like I need to take a shower after browsing through that book.
Senior Member
Username: chris_grimm_ccs_scip

Post Number: 283
Registered: 02-2014

Posted on Wednesday, October 29, 2014 - 10:39 am:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Bought a used copy for our office some years ago. Positively diabolical, like reading The Screwtape Letters.


Facility owners, who we all ultimately answer to, surely would not like for their money to be spent in the manner shown here!

Good specifiers work to protect the owner's investment and the designer's intent, as do some very good contractors and even some big D designers and engineers who do get the whole picture. But they are getting harder to find. Some of the most experienced and talented people I've ever worked with were cut in the last recession and retired or went a different direction, and have slowly been replaced by new graduates as firms recovered. I'm less worried about how we spec writers will replace ourselves than I am about how we can help our client- or coworker-designers to at least understand the outline spec level, to mark a cut sheet and not leave it full of options or 4 totally different products, to look at the manufacturer's limitations, confirm with their rep if the design requirements may be a bit different from the recommended applications, and save this info in a shared digital folder that they themselves will come back to half a dozen times through design phases and CA. The info is right at their fingertips when they find that detail from the manufacturer. And by the way, to think of updating their spec writer well enough ahead of the deadline. Then we can turn around some better quality reading material for them to keynote with and keep handy at their desk and/or bedside. That might keep away some of those change orders right there. With enough designers who understand the basics of specs, the likelihood also increases that some of them will discover the satisfying art of forming the written requirements that protect and enhance their design intent.

Whether designers will one day pore over every word to craft their project manuals or not, they are still specifiers, in effect, if they collect good information and communicate it to those who do prepare specs, and if they then review/mark these draft work products, and observe through CA as things become more defined or redefined in submittals and on the jobsite.

As [future] Designers of Record they really are in the best position to feed the specifications process and set the stage for well-coordinated documents. That is truly all part of design, nothing to run away from if you want to be a rock star designer in your facility owner's eyes when there are little to no change orders and the project stays within budget. In fact those who do can save the profession from the race to the bottom and from abdicating of responsibility that has driven owners and contractors away from the profession toward excessive and late VE, forming ConsensusDocs, and running projects with minimal reliance on the architects. This is a sad state of affairs.

The questions in my mind are how do we reach the graduate architects who are just beginning to grasp that buildings are in fact made up of many manufactured products and other materials that must be selected and defined; and how do we reach the group mentioned of 28-38 year old licensed professionals some of whom do not yet seem to understand that materials must have proper interrelationships and transitions to function properly for the building to perform; how do we reach them at the levels they each need, and how do we make sure we offer them something they are [or soon will be] looking for?

One way to start is by just asking them. I've previously served on CSI chapter education including outreach for IDP spec training, and I've observed how several chapters approach education. Now that I am in a chapter again with a large student population and a few recent graduates who have stayed with the chapter, I will take this up with them and see that we discover and meet the needs both ways. I'll echo Rich's request to share examples of outreach programs. If anyone is interested, I can be reached at cgrimm <insert at character> aec-specs <insert dot character> com. Especially need ideas on reaching the 28-38's and how to identify the ones who know they need it.

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