Designers and architects have to document their fully resolved design in drawn and written form so that a contractor can build it as it was designed.

This documentation generally is comprised of the general conditions of contract (usually an industry standard form), drawings (showing arrangements with notes and dimensions), the schedules (simply lists of materials, equipment, colours and finishes), and the specification (a written booklet of the micro-detail). Ideally the documents should communicate what to build and to what standard without question.

Out of the four parts of documentation mentioned, the specification is the document most likely to have the most debate about what constitutes good content. One aspect of content of any of the four parts of documentation that most practitioners do agree on is not repeating what has successfully been documented elsewhere. Yet there is one thing that does get repeated, not only by designers writing the specification, but by some master specification producers (those that sell their master template for designers to use) themselves. This one thing is the repetition of publicized manufacturer installation detail.

I can’t think of any reason why a master specification producer would document publicized manufacturer installation detail, other than perhaps to get paid by the manufacturer to do so. If you asked a practitioner why they do it, they will likely tell you the building element’s importance demands it. In that case, we need to ask the obvious “isn’t every part of the building important?”

When we highlight the importance of one thing over others, it gives the impression that the other things don’t require the same level of attention. When a contractor asks “why does this thing have such an abundance of detail documented? Does it mean that the other things are not as important?” it means the documentation is at fault, simply because questions are being asked. The document reader sees inconsistency because of the differing levels of detail between the different building elements. Not only do documentation inconsistencies have the potential to cause construction mistakes, each one also causes an erosion in the confidence in the documents.

There are two ways we can go to correct this fault of inconsistent levels of documentation for different building elements. The first is to achieve consistency by providing full manufacturer detail for all building elements. This will never happen, because not only will the specification writer be spending many months collecting and documenting all the relevant detail, the resulting specification would consist of numerous large volumes.

So the only way to achieve consistency is to not provide any manufacturer detail, other than nominating the product and any options it may have. Of course you need to specify that with all proprietary products (proprietary needs be a defined word), the builder obtains the current supply and install detail from the manufacturer, and is to keep this detail on site. This puts responsibility on the builder and manufacturer to get the correct detail and the most up-to-date detail. You can specify also, that at the end of the contract the builder provides several hard copy binders with all the manufacturer detail in it, and also have it on a CD.

As well as providing consistent documentation, by not presenting any manufacturer detail and getting the builder to obtain it, you avoid the possibility of providing incorrect or out-of-date or detail which may happen when you provide the manufacturer detail. Furthermore, all your work goes to waste by providing this unnecessary manufacturer detail when the builder successfully applies during the contract to use an alternative product.

You want to get your documents done as competently and as fast as you can. By documenting manufacturer detail, you unnecessarily add to the volume of work you have to do and risk documentation inconsistency and error. Simply put, just don’t specify it. Specify that the builder must provide it.

  • Greg, CD who uses these? Your article really describes the modern architecture crisis. Who are architects and what will their role be in the future? The lines are blurring between contractor, designer and manufacturer. My expectation is that architects will mostly become specialist shops that come up with great design concepts that are ready to be novated to a contractor of record. Remember that in the end buildings get built because of a contract between the Owner and the Contractor. Its worth having a good look at AS 4300 to see how the goal posts have moved. The reality is that smart modern constructors will develop their own kit of standard designs and assembly methods. We can see evidence of this in Australia with firms like Hickory and Strongbuild. These builders are not out to offend good design, they are about implementing them using modern methods that deliver smarter, better, safer, faster and eventually lower cost construction with less on site generated construction waste (80%), shorter on site construction times (50%), less on-site fabrication and workforce (50%) and far fewer construction injuries (80% lower LTIs). These modern constructors will develop repeat and intimate relationships with their supply chains which will span the global construction market place. They will apply modern digital technologies to manage construction quality assurance and certifications. They are already using RFID technologies that go with construction components from source to installation and into a building's working life – all gathered and available in the Cloud. The reality is that AS 4300 is the marker of the decline of traditional design for projects, the challenge is that this contract is 17 years old and needs to be adapted to embrace the transformation of construction that is now underway. There is no turning back for traditional architects. Sorry.

  • Where do the owners of apartments in the Lacrosse Building go after the exterior of their building caught fire. They have been given the multi million dollar bill. This product used elsewhere has had catastrophic consequences. What about cheap non- compliant structural steel , fire doors, windows and reticulation being incorporated? This appears to be the reapportioning of risk that we all hear about and experience at the bottom of the chain. Leaving it to a builder gives us what we have already got.

    • Les, I refer to my comments on Brett Bates excellent article on NSW Building Reform – repeated here so your comments are not taken out of context;
      Brett, a well considered and presented case for rethinking these types of insurance nationally. It needs a national solution.
      Much more to be said, but article is an excellent contribution.
      Our challenge is that successive governments have paired back all agencies i.e. Public Works and OFT.
      They all run on a smell of an oil rag, they have little or none of their traditional capabilities or influence.
      The public now get what we the tax payers pay for – not much. This will end in tears and the price to clean up will be huge.
      Just look at the NZ Leaky Building disaster.
      What is left of the former governance of industry compliance and competence is dominated by industry associations whose mandate is self-certification and less regulation (always expressed as cutting red tape).
      The current Senate enquiry on Non-Conforming Building Materials has gone to sleep at the wheel.
      No planned meetings of the Committee since the last election as at February this year. So much for the public out cry of LaCrosse in Melbourne. Just the tip of the iceberg.

  • Greg I do not share your view. Architects could be part of the solution to our very serious problems, but I would suggest not through providing less detail. I agree with both Les and David. We have third world buildings – and in increasing numbers – for which there are numerous reasons.
    1. Effectively no enforcement of any laws or standards that are meaningful – in reality a lawless industry! And the 'builders' of the appalling buildings are rewarded for building rubbish!
    2. Unfair contracts and no protection for consumers, sub-contractors or workers.
    3. A pathetic set of governance 'arrangements' – all in bed with business. It is not about a lack of money or resources, but protecting big business and that includes promoting 'anything goes' and enabling cheap, nasty and often deadly buildings to be ok'd.
    4. All the real stakeholders – who fund, do the work and employ the workers – are voiceless. Their only role is to be the cash cows and the victims.
    We have built our way to the bottom. If we wanted to change and build decent, safe and enviro friendly buildings that do not damage people financially and emotionally – and kill them – then one of the ways to do so is to specify detail. Leaving it to the 'builder' when many cannot speak English, read plans or 'build' is what has brought us to this place – in 25 years we have managed to create a massive, ever-growing disaster! Sorry I cannot agree with your point of view and it seems such a process would further insulate the Archies but not improve building quality or safety.

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