Tuesday, December 4, 2012


From the archives...
This is from an article I wrote for the Northern Illinois CSI LINK newsletter in 2004.

Let me be the first to admit that the AEC business's finest curmudgeon is Sheldon Wolfe, who writes about architects, the built environment, and CSI, with unusual clarity and vision, and one of whose series of articles is called, I think, "Curmudgeon's Corner". Visit his blogs at swconstructivethoughts.blogspot.com and swspecificthoughts.blogspot.com.

But before Sheldon defined curmudgeonliness as a brand, yours truly tried to have a little fun with the word.

Every once in a while, NPR's morning show features Sports Illustrated's Frank DeFord as the Sports Curmudgeon, a gravelly voiced, more irascible version of Andy Rooney. The Sports Curmudgeon rants in the third person about things that irritate him in the world of sports. I couldn't resist the temptation to create and assume the persona of the Spec Curmudgeon.

PROJECT MANUAL SIZE: The Spec Curmudgeon is fed up with people in the construction industry who whine that Project Manuals are too big.  Too many pages, they say. Nobody will ever read it all, they say. The bidders will be scared away from the job by the thick spec book. Bids won't be competitive because we're too bureaucratic, we specify too much detail, and we're asking contractors for too many submittals. Smart aleck critics convey their opinions about the usefulness of specifications to the Spec Curmudgeon by trotting out a tenth-generation photocopy of that time-worn cartoon showing a construction site outhouse with the words "Damn, we're out of specs" in a speech balloon over the outhouse.

To this, the Spec Curmudgeon respectfully says: HORSEFEATHERS! When, during construction of a project, the drawings are found to be hopelessly inconsistent and don't agree with the spec, the Spec Curmudgeon is asked: "Hey, where did you spec that provision about the greatest quantity or highest quality of products in the event of a contradiction in the construction documents?" When jobsite workmanship is questionable, the Spec Curmudgeon is asked to comb the Project Manual and dredge
up relevant industry standards to which the contractor may be held. To paraphrase the late Senator Everett Dirksen's remark about budgets: "A word here, a provision there, and pretty soon you're talking a pretty big book." The Spec Curmudgeon thinks that a construction project is a crapshoot and you never know when you're going to need a particular combination of words. The Spec Curmudgeon says: "Better safe than sorry when editing the Project Manual."

THE LACK OF A CONSISTENT FORMAT FOR CONSTRUCTION DRAWINGS: It's hard to get the specs right when every AE firm (and sometimes every architect within a firm) organizes drawings differently.
The Spec Curmudgeon thinks this problem is the bane of the architectural business, causing many mistakes and hurting AE firm profitability.  Specifiers have to interface their specifications with the work of outside consultants of all types, tenant architects, associated firms, and corporate clients, among others.  When trying to coordinate with another firm's drawings, you never know whether they're going to show some particular type of information on elevations, or schedules, or abbreviations, or in notes of some sort. What the Spec Curmudgeon finds even worse is the use of so-called "keyed notes". This method serially numbers products or finishes and shows the numbers on an elevation or plan. The Spec Curmudgeon's problem is that the numbers usually bear no relation to the objects or actions they describe. What's even worse, some firms use separate lists for each drawing in a project, so that for example Keynote 15 on a floor plan may refer to a dock seal, while on a sheet of interior elevations, Keynote 15 may be a dishwasher.

This lack of drawing consistency has to be as big a problem for construction contractors and subcontractors as it is for specifiers. Cost estimators in particular must be driven to distraction by the lack of consistency in organization of construction drawings.  The Spec Curmudgeon thinks  the solution to this sorry state of affairs is for everybody in the design professions to finally get on the bandwagon and use the National CAD Standard and other drawing formats promoted by CSI. Specifications long ago benefited from wide acceptance and use of CSI organizational formats. It's time for people who produce drawings to adopt the same degree of self-discipline and use the industry's common standards.

OBSOLETE MANUFACTURERS AND PRODUCTS: Construction product manufacturers never tell the Spec Curmudgeon or other specifiers when they're going out of business, and rarely tell us when they're discontinuing a product line.  They just abandon their obsolete catalogs, leaving them to mislead our professional staff and clutter our already overcrowded library shelves. The Spec Curmudgeon thinks that the industry's magazines should include in every issue a corporate obituary page to alert the industry to the passing of obsolete manufacturers and brands.

OTHER ISSUES: With any encouragement at all, the Spec Curmudgeon may at some time in the future rant about other irritants such as the abominable state of the news industry's coverage of construction issues, or the tendency of architectural magazines to focus on the most impractical designs and to use trendy, twitchy, hard-to read graphic styles.

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