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.

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.

14 March 2017

Spock as a specifier

In our never-ending search for truth in specifications, we often lose sight of reality. We're inundated with advertising, product data, test reports, and white papers; where once specifiers complained about a lack of information, we now struggle to keep up with what we receive. We can't know what we don't know, and we have no time to evaluate what we have seen. As if that weren't bad enough, we often find that what we thought we knew isn't true.

As an example, consider building insulation. The way it works and its value have been understood since antiquity, and until recently we have felt comfortable with evaluating, specifying, and detailing various types of insulation. And then everything began to unravel.

14 February 2017

Tower of Babel


"Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech."

I recently enjoyed watching a video clip of a senate confirmation hearing, in which Scott Pruit, EPA Administrator nominee, was being grilled by Joni Ernst, Senator from Iowa. At issue was the term WOTUS, or "Waters of the United States." Not knowing at the time I watched it what the term meant, it was amusing to see that 97 percent of Iowa would be governed by expansion of the existing definition. Further discussion focused on puddles and on a definition of a parking lot puddle as a "degraded wetland."

The labyrinthine regulations of the federal government reminded me of regulations we in construction deal with every day. They are similarly complex and obscure, differing only in extent. I was not surprised that I didn't understand the subjects of the senate hearing, but on further thought, I realized I really don't know much about the countless codes and regulations that govern construction. Nor, I'm sure, does anyone else.