Architectural trade package documents are that bundle of separately produced documents, each drafted to cover one specific work package out of many done under a main building contract.

A package will generally consist of drawings, schedules and a written specification.

Trade packaging is a result of fast-track building procurement where speed of documentation and construction (or the perception of it) is the goal. Essentially, when the early building design is approved, construction is started very soon thereafter, often starting with the either the demolition or earthworks trade packages. While these are happening, the next trade package (let’s say drainage) is being documented and organized to start on site. This sequential process basically repeats until the building is finished.

In theory, all this may seem like a good idea. Maybe not so good is starting construction before the building is fully designed (good, detailed design and micro-design are critical to building design quality and can be compromised by fast-tracking), but we are looking here at the technical process of trade packaging.

Trade package documentation is very laborious, costly and a somewhat risky process. The increased labour comes from having to document each trade package separately. The increased cost relates to the increased labour, and the risk comes from potentially poor macro design and also the mistakes inherent in working at speed. So how do you reduce the excessive cost of documenting trade packages?

Unfortunately, if documentation is to be trade packaged, there is little that can be done to reduce the extra work involved in packaging the drawings and schedules, except keeping the design and construction detailing as simple as possible. That leaves the specification, which fortunately can be done in a way to avoid the extra labour and also minimize risk. To understand this, a brief explanation of specification production is warranted.

We all know you need a good quality master specification to produce a specific project specification. A master spec is basically a master document containing all the universal construction detail found in most buildings. A good master's content is that common, repetitive backup detail that doesn’t need to be thought about twice and doesn’t need much changing. A specific project specification starts with the master specification, and content that is not applicable to the project is edited out.

A master spec works very well for lump sum contracts where the whole project is completely documented as one large package before construction starts. Unfortunately, no master specification can be made for trade package specifications because the range of trade packages and the fact that the content of each trade package differs with each job and with each builder.

The only way to create trade package specifications is to construct them by cutting and pasting detail from a lump sum master spec. This makes trade package spec production very laborious, costly and risky. Let’s now look at the low labour, low cost, low risk trade package specification solution.

After the basic building design has been approved, the early works (such as civil, drainage, and shoring) packages can be documented and constructed to get work underway. At this time, most of the materials for the whole building are known. It’s just the planning arrangements, construction details, and material finishes that need resolution, which are all the things that the drawings and schedules show. The detail found in the master spec, however, is universal and is known early in the process, ready to use.

So after trade packages are done by the consultants for the early works, the architect, instead of doing a separate trade package for all the trades thereafter, does just one full lump-sum style specification. At the same time, the builder drafts a single A4 page scope of works description, and the subcontractors simply use that scope of works page to know what detail to get from the specification. Some small specification changes may happen during the course of events, in which case the spec can be easily and quickly amended and reissued.

This solution can only be acceptable by using a master spec that is concise (easy to read and handle), easily navigated (for subcontractors to quickly find their detail), and easily emailed. A big, bulky spec won’t work because if it is bulky, it’s not well written and will be too cumbersome and difficult to find things. There is only one master specification available that meets these positive requirements and that is the ArchiAssist master specification.

If you find yourself needing to do trade package documentation, make sure you price and program accordingly for the rush and the stress of it. Doing your specifications in the way that is suggested here can save you a lot of rush and stress, and likely a lot of fees.