Why become a specification writer?
Specifications are an integral – and required! – part of every set of construction contract documents. The specifier plays an essential role in the selection of building materials and systems as well as an essential role in documenting the architect’s design intent.
However – for reasons I won’t belabor here – most architects and engineers avoid the task of writing specifications like the plague. That said, why would anyone want to be a specification writer?
While attending freshman orientation at my alma mater, I heard a lecture by the assistant dean of the College of Architecture.
He was a weathered-looking fellow of a certain age, dressed smartly in sharply creased slacks and a brown tweed jacket with a crisp, snowy dress shirt and a narrow tie. He dragged hard on his unfiltered cigarette, exhaled and then barked at us in the voice of a decades-long chain-smoker, “If you’re getting into architecture for the money, get out now!”
At the age of eighteen, I knew everything. I distinctly remember thinking, “God, what a bitter old hack! I bet he hates being stuck teaching architecture at a state university.” (Later, I learned that he’d graduated with a 4.0 GPA from an Ivy League school and had worked for a couple of the most famous names in architecture from the first half of the twentieth century.)
Needless to say, I didn’t take his admonition seriously at the time.
If he’d said something like, “Only about 5% of the people who attend this program will end up full-time designers“, I might have paid a little more attention.
Having just graduated from high school where I was a middling athlete that stood near the top of the academic list and the bottom of the social ladder, I understood a thing or two about who counts and who doesn’t and how much room there is at the top.
Had he gone on to say, “The rest of you will end up draftsmen of vast experience or middle-level managers of draftsmen of vast experience. The rest of you will spend your careers developing, drawing and detailing the designs of others and administering the construction activity that sometimes results from those drawings. Now, who in this room thinks that he or she will be in that 5%?“, my career path might have been very different.
So, what does this have to do with specifications?
In a career environment where everybody wants to be a designer and almost nobody wants to be a specification writer, the specification writing is a unique opportunity. An architect or engineer who learns to write specifications will enhance his or her value to an employer. He or she will almost certainly be the only specification writer on the project team and will have considerable influence on the selection of materials and systems.
Most architects and engineers enjoy the problem-solving aspect of design. Specification writing is just another set of tools for problem solving and, approached that way, can be rewarding and fun.