The focus of this blog is construction-related topics. The purpose is discussion, so please feel free to comment! See Specific thoughts for thoughts from the daily life of a specifier.

22 May 2018

The CSI College of Fellows on Facebook

The CSI College of Fellows has two Facebook pages. One, at https://www.facebook.com/FCSICollegeofFellows/, is the official page, where announcements from the College are posted. It focuses on College of Fellows announcements and activities. Formal reports of the passing of Fellows are posted here, as is information about new Fellows, the Celebration of Fellows, and College of Fellows history.

The other page, at https://www.facebook.com/groups/CSIFellows/, is more casual. This one is a group page, with membership restricted to CSI Fellows. It's a place for Fellows to talk with other Fellows about what they're doing. Members (again, restricted to Fellows) automatically are notified about new posts. For the last several months, we have been playing a game of "Who, when, and where?" A picture of Fellows from a past event is posted, and visitors are invited to guess who's in the picture, when it was taken, and where it was taken.

Anyone can visit either page, and anyone can comment, though comments from non-members may be moderated. Watch both of these pages for news about the College of Fellows, and when you have a few spare minutes, see if you can answer the "Who, when, and where?" questions. For a start, who is in this picture? When was it taken, and what are they doing? Post your answers on Facebook, at https://www.facebook.com/groups/CSIFellows/.

14 May 2018

Head to head

It's been thirty-three years since I took my first job as a specifier. This glorious career came to an early end a few months ago when I left my last office, where I had worked for twenty-two years. Add to that the years I worked in "real" architecture after graduating from architecture school in 1975, and it's been a long road.

My last firm regularly announced milestone anniversaries, and, beginning with the tenth anniversary, each honoree was given the opportunity to say a few words. At my tenth and fifteenth anniversaries, I took a project manual to the lectern, opened it, and intoned, "And now for an interpretive reading of a specification section." The next time you speak, try it; it's always good for a laugh.

For my twentieth anniversary, I couldn't help but think back on my career. I decided I should compare myself to another writer, and, for reasons I can't explain, I chose Tom Clancy. That might sound crazy, but we're both prolific writers, and there is a resemblance…

21 February 2018

Construction documents - are they worse than ever?

Two women operating ENIAC; Wikepedia
Two women operating ENIAC; Wikipedia Commons
One of the presentations at the 2017 convention in Providence was a panel discussion titled Hot Topics and Emerging Trends, which included comments about the decline in the quality of construction documents. I found this to be an interesting subject, as I had seen many attacks on document quality over the years. Not only that, but I had made presentations on the subject.

In 1997, Michael Chambers and I presented “Document Coordination” for the Minnesota chapter of AIA. We discussed the roles of drawings and specifications, document quality, coordination techniques, short-form specifications, and MasterFormat 1995. Our handout included reprints of several articles about document quality; some, with scary titles, tried to prove that construction documents were atrocious and getting worse, while others how quality depended on coordination of construction documents.*

06 December 2017

Wayward websites

There's often a lag between the time something new comes along and the time it is fully incorporated into our lives or work. When websites first came online, in the mid-'90s, they had obvious potential but companies weren't sure what to do with them. As I recall, many of them focused on the history of the company, stocks and market activity, and various other things useless to most visitors. The content was what the company owner thought was interesting; it was not what the prospective customers needed.

At the time, there wasn't much in the way of instruction for web designers and there were few rules about how to make a website work or what it should be. An architecture firm in my area had a beautiful website, graced by one the firm's most impressive projects. The problem was, it took forever to load. I analyzed the code and the files, and discovered they were using a huge image file. They apparently didn't know that there usually is no discernible difference between an image file of a few kilobytes and the same image in a two-megabyte file.

07 November 2017

Is it time for change?

Design-Build Institute of America
When I became a specifier in 1985, all of the projects I worked on used the "traditional" design-bid-build (DBB) delivery method. And ten years later, when I started my current job at BWBR, all we used was DBB. That shouldn't be a surprise because, at the time, there was nothing else, at least in the building construction industry.

The Design-Build Institute of America (DBIA) was founded in 1993, coincidentally the same year that USGBC appeared. At the time, DBIA made what seemed to be optimistic projections of a future dominated by design-build (DB), with a corresponding decrease in design-bid-build. That prediction is nearing fulfillment, though perhaps at a slower rate than first expected.

26 September 2017

The making of a convention

A lot goes into a convention: location, scheduling, publicity, solicitation of exhibitors, invitations to potential attendees, and more. Although the exhibit floor is extremely important to exhibitor and attendee alike, the educational seminars and activities are equally important.

Those activities take many forms. The traditional lecture format continues to be popular, but interactive presentations have been increasing. Panel discussions, which seem to be either dreadful or very interesting, allow audience participation. In the last few years, we have had presentations and live demonstrations on the exhibit floor. On occasion, these involve one of my favorite activities - getting your hands dirty. Another recent addition has been YP Day (young professionals day), a collection of special events aimed at young professionals and others new to the construction industry.

I've always known that choosing presentations and speakers must be difficult, and this year I learned how true that is. In December of last year, I was asked to serve on the CONSTRUCT 2017 Education Advisory Council, the group that helped selected this year's speakers and presentations. The Council was led by Jennifer Hughes, Informa Education Manager. In the past, I had made suggestions about presentations, so I felt obligated to accept the challenge.

22 August 2017

Where do bad specifications come from?

It's approaching ten years since I wrote "The Making of a Curmudgeon." In it, I reminisced about my decision to run for Institute Director and thinking, "Holy cow, when my term is done I'll be almost sixty!" Well, sixty came and went, and I recently celebrated my twentieth anniversary at my office.

Milestones like that tend to make one look back, to think about what has happened, to think about what might have been. During my thirty years as a specifier, I thought things would improve, that specifications would get better, that relations within the construction team would become more collaborative and trusting, that drawing details would gradually lose the pesky problems that lead to problems in construction, and that, eventually, the construction process would be a thing of wonder, with few difficulties. I thought that when it came time to retire, I could look back on continual progress and leave knowing that the world was a better place, due at least in some part to what I had done.

01 May 2017

Small brush with fame

Lawrence Small, son of Ben John Small, and me
One of the most treasured awards I received from CSI is the Ben John Small Memorial Award. First presented in 1996, and limited to one per year, only eleven people have received this award.

The award, originally intended "to honor those who have achieved outstanding stature and proficiency as specifiers," is named after Ben John Small, charter member and president of the Metropolitan New York Chapter. Ben was well known as an educator; he was a frequent lecturer at Columbia University, Princeton University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the Virginia Polytechnic Institute. He wrote columns for Pencil Points Magazine, which later became Progressive Architecture. He also wrote a number of books, including Architectural Practice, Building check list, and Streamlined specifications standards. (I have two of these books in my library.)

A couple of years after receiving the award, I was at the CSI office in Alexandria for an Institute board meeting. I recalled seeing an article about Ben John Small in the Construction Specifier, but all I could remember was that his son worked at the Smithsonian. I had a little extra time before my flight, so I went to the Smithsonian in hopes of meeting him.