innovation | service | responsiveness

Our Services
  • Specifications
  • Sustainability
  • Document Technology
Recent Projects
Hamad Medical City, Qatar
Patent Office Building, Washington DC
Bahrain City Centre, Bahrain
Belltown View, Seattle

Specifications Consulting

There is a traditional model of specification consulting, in which the architect has a specification writer in-house, or hires one in from the outside, whose job it is to write documents that supplement the drawings at each phase of the design. They almost always use a recent similar job as the base; they rarely modify the language, other than to get the products and assemblies that have been selected. This is, at its essence, a specification writing service which views the written specification as the deliverable, and springs from a view that specifications are an onerous task to be completed, rather than as a vital link in the communications between architect, owner, and contractor.

Specifications are a key contract document, contractually as important as the drawings. Done properly, they support and clarify the design intent, confirm procedures and responsibilities, establish quality and performance benchmarks, provide means for checking compliance, reflect the contract procurement route, and reduce drawing notation.

We recognize that design is fluid and evolutionary, and believe that specifications are the means of communicating and documenting that design throughout the construction process. We are able to understand the design and describe it fully; our knowledge of construction, and the breadth and depth of our experience, give us the ability to write specifications that integrate the design and the method of procurement right from the start of the process.

Our specifications are written using a proprietary web-based document production and management system - every specification begins from the master documents, and is developed as the design develops, with a full audit trail. The system is database-driven, rather than word processor based, allowing us to implement global modifications, track changes, and control content. Our system is also dynamically updated as practices, standards and corporate knowledge change. We can reach it anytime, from anywhere, and can access the knowledge and experience of all our offices with a single, unified system - there are no knowledge silos.

We work directly for the architect, usually starting the process during schematic design and design development, continuing through the construction documents phase, and offer support in the post-contract phase. We do not believe that the specification - the pile of paper -- is the service; rather, the specification is the result of our consultancy. We therefore work closely with the designer to truly understand the building; then create, evolve and deliver specifications that reflect that understanding.

The Process

Our method of developing specifications allows a greater portion of our time to be devoted to client contact. Thus, we try to attend as many meetings as is practical in an effort to get to know the designers and the design, to figure out what the design intent is -- we need to understand what the architect is trying to achieve in order to properly describe and nuance the specifications to meet that intent. We use a series of drafts, checklists, and communication media (email, telephone, our online system) to achieve this. The geographical spread of projects means that we can't physically attend every meeting on most projects; we can and should have regular contact, however, so that we can keep our finger on the pulse of the design.

In addition to the written specifications, we use a technical reference sheet to keep track of terminology, assemblies, and materials used on the project; this gives us and the designers a common vocabulary to discuss and implement the design, keeping information coordinated and universally accessible.

As an illustration, the following is a general outline of out activities on a typical project:

Phase Activity
Project kick-off
  • Attend kick-off meeting; meet design team; meet Owner
Schematic Design
  • Prepare draft outline Specifications based on SD drawings
  • Prepare draft technical reference sheet
  • Issue project questionnaire to client
  • Incorporate questionnaire responses into draft
  • Issue draft to client (this is often iterative)
  • Incorporate client comments
  • Issue final SD Specifications
Design Development
  • Prepare DD Specifications based on SD Specifications and Drawings
  • Prepare front end General Requirements, coordinated with General Conditions
  • Evolve technical reference sheet with design
  • Evolve Specifications through iterative drafts
  • Attend meetings (as needed)Highlight 'holes' in the Specification for designer's attention
  • Aid client with product research, advice
  • Review subconsultant Specifications
  • Finalize technical reference sheet
  • Issue final DD Specifications -- these should be 80%-90% complete CDs, ideally
Contact Documents
  • Prepare CD Specifications based on DD Specifications and Drawings
  • Attend meetings (as needed)
  • Evolve Specifications through iterative drafts
  • Aid client with product research, advice
  • Careful review of subconsultant Specifications; coordination to rest of document
  • Issue final CD Specifications
  • Addenda, modifications, support