Like it or not, design and construct (D&C) building procurement seems to be popular, especially for government or large commercial projects.

D&C procurement is basically where the owner of the proposed building engages (contracts) the builder long before documentation for that new building has been completed. The builder may be contracted from the very start, or contracted after the basic design has been done by a designer or architect. Either way, the builder is responsible for completing design development and documentation.

Designers and architects working in this arrangement can be forced to provide reduced services. This is because the builder, who is the primary consultant, takes command and resists being regulated and compliance checked by entering into a contract consisting of full documentation and contract administration. Many designers working with D&C may not like the practice, but often go along with it because it pays the bills. However, there can be hidden dangers for the designer who provides a minimal service.

D&C documentation can regularly consist of only basic drawings and schedules. Reports by sub-consultants such as acoustic reports and fire protection reports can be included, but reports are never written as contract documents (reports don’t tell a contractor what to build in explicit unambiguous terms). Also, a specification is often not included in the D&C documents.

The fact that no specification is included in the documents is rather alarming. Typically the specification legally ranks highest in the contract documents. Not having a specification would mean that the designer could be exposing themselves to legal repercussions if something goes wrong with the building.

It is often part of the builder/primary consultant requirements that no specification be done. Not only is it cheaper, but as mentioned, the builder avoids the restrictive regulation and compliance checking that a contract consisting of full documentation demands. This attitude, however, can disadvantage everyone involved, including the builder.

A good specification, as well as detailing the quality required, fills in all those gaps that drawings and schedules can’t document, and these gaps can easily cause on-site disputes. Not only is having this higher level of detail an obvious advantage with great protection from dispute for the designer and the building owner, but the builder can also enjoy this advantage and protection when the specification is incorporated into each subcontract.

We all have opinions on what a good specification is and the prevalence of bad specifications has probably led to the standard industry joke that builders never read the spec anyway, as incomprehensible it is to think anyone would sign a contract then never refer to the most legally important part of it.

Most of us can’t argue with the fact that a good spec is easy and fast to write (it shouldn’t take longer than a day for a full version spec), not too big, gets to the point in plain English, is not overly reliant on just nominating the Australian Standards, is easy to navigate and find things, and has everything needed to resolve most common on-site disputes.

There are basically three master specifications on the market for designers to use: ArchiAssist, Natspec and Spec Pack. Designers need to do their due diligence on which master best meets the above mentioned criteria for a good specification.

For D&C project specifications, all these criteria are important, but a certain characteristic stands out as being especially important, and that is that the master needs to allow spec writing to be done cheaply, fast and easily.

I can hear the designers reading this crying “If my builder client does not want a spec, why should I do one?” The old adage applies that doing a good job means dotting all the “I’s” and crossing all the “T’s.” If you don’t, it will someday come back to bite you. So how do you provide a specification when none was asked for?

First, you need to use a master spec that allows specs to be done cheaply, fast and easy; one that allows specs to be done in a day so little or no extra fees need to be allowed for. At least one of the masters mentioned fulfills this requirement. Then you need to put in all your client conditions of engagement that you provide a specification for all jobs – no matter if it is asked for or not. It’s a straightforward document and your builder client can throw it in the bin if they wish. The important thing is that you have met your professional duty of care.

It’s the digital age. You need to know now that at least one master specification producer has made a master for which specifications are not difficult and time consuming to write. Don’t leave yourself exposed by not having a specification on all your projects.