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The question “what is perfect architectural documentation?” is impossible to answer.

There are so many variables in both buildings and in documentation methods. Added to this is the maze of opinions, personal preferences, documentation tools, differing professional standards, fee and time pressures, and staff resources available.

However, you will find little argument that documentation is best when it is clear, concise, logical and unambiguous to everyone, from subcontractors and suppliers to engineers to the site foreman.

Many architects and designers do a fair job of making clear, concise, logical and unambiguous documents despite the real-world commercial challenges they face to do so. Nevertheless, there is always room for improvement and better documentation means less risk for the designer, better construction, and a better building.

There are a number of common and basic things that can be done to documentation that can not only improve the quality of documentation communication (hence less risk for the designer), but also make the job of documentation easier and faster, with fewer hassles during construction. All of this reduces stress and avoids your fees getting unduly consumed by preventable problems.

Here are some efficiency tips relating to drawings:

  • Help keep drawing detail to a minimum by not repeating what is in the schedules or specification.
  • Avoid overuse of abbreviations. A reader of a drawing being interrupted to search for an abbreviation meaning is a major annoyance and a time waster. It is especially frustrating having to search for the meaning in another document, and is inexcusable when the meaning can’t be found.
  • Keep the design and construction detailing simple as possible while still making a beautiful building. This reduces drawings, reduces costs, and reduces risk of physical failures.
  • Avoid cross-referencing to other documents. The builder should know what is documented. Also, if you excessively cross-reference and you miss something, you may be blamed if that thing is missed from the building.

Here are some efficiency tips relating to schedules:

  • Help keep schedule detail to a minimum by not repeating what is in the drawings or specification.
  • Schedules are best used as quick reference tools to present product name, colour and accessories, and nothing more.
  • Present schedules in portrait format. It’s cumbersome to have to turn things sideways to read them, especially on-site and it is also cumbersome if the schedule is stapled together. If you have to use landscape format, you are presenting too much detail.
  • Don’t combine different item types into one mega-schedule.  Have one schedule for external finishes, one for internal finishes, one for fixtures, one for doors. Colours can be included in these separate schedules.
  • Avoid cross-referencing to other documents. The builder should know what is documented. Also, if you excessively cross-reference and you miss something, you may be blamed if that thing is missed from the building.

Here are some efficiency tips relating to specifications:

  • Help keep specification detail to a minimum by not repeating what is in the drawings or schedules.
  • Have common specification sections, sub-sections and clauses so you don’t need to repeat the same common stuff over and over; just refer to it where required for internal specification navigation.
  • Keep specification content to that universal good quality detail that repeats day to day, over and over, in the industry. Put project specific detail in the drawings and schedules.  The specification then becomes a true back-up document which is easier to produce and is smaller and more predictable.
  • Don’t repeat product manufacturer detail; just specify the product and any options associated with it. Repeating manufacturer detail beyond this creates more documentation and risks error. Specify that the builder is to source the manufacturer's written advice on the product, which puts responsibility on the builder and manufacturer to get the right detail.
  • Don’t specify product warranty periods unless you are describing a product generically as a performance description, in which case the warranty period should be compatible with good industry standards. Calling up a warranty period in excess of what is standard will just raise prices and reduce choice.
  • Do away with warranty, submission and notification schedules. This is a big time waster and fraught with risk as you may miss something. Just put this sort of detail in the actual text for the item so it’s all in the one place. For submissions and notifications, present them in capitalized bold italicized text and they won’t be missed.
  • Don’t write scope of work descriptions. These are time consuming and risky if you miss something. What is already in the contract documents is an unbeatable scope of work statement.
  • Get your selected door hardware manufacturer and paint manufacturer to do up the product schedules for these things. They know this stuff best and it is a standard thing for them to do, which will free up your time.
  • Avoid cross-referencing to other documents. The builder should know what is documented. Also, if you excessively cross-reference and you miss something, you may be blamed if that thing is missed from the building.
  • As regards specifications, there are three main master specification producers in Australia: ArchiAssist, Specpack and Natspec. The list above will help you do your homework when selecting a master spec to use.

All these things mentioned do not represent an exhaustive list of things related to producing more efficient documentation. The list will, however, give you a basis to begin reviewing your documentation.

Documentation is the biggest job of the designer and the one that connects the designer to construction and to the building. Spending time making the documents as efficient as possible can really pay dividends, especially by saving fees and stress by producing documents faster, and also by having less on-site hassles.

 
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