Bringing a Building to Life: Specifications Writers Make the Impossible Possible

While they are often pegged on the less glamorous side of architecture, specifications writers work on tasks that can be just as rewarding as design.

Pascal Hogue Pascal Hogue

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When evaluating the design of a completed building, we don’t often consider the impact that specifications writers had on the project’s outcome. Often working in the shadows of an architect’s design work, these planners are constantly pressing and prodding about the costs of materials, equipment availability and imminent deadlines. Their role in the architecture firm essentially involves taking fun, exciting ideas and bringing them down to the realm of the realistic to make them viable within real-world constraints. Some might call this the unglamorous side of architecture; others might say that specification writers are the ‘party-poopers’ of the architecture world.

This is certainly a misleading way to think about specifications writers. It gives little credit to the myriad crucial tasks people in the profession undertake, from coordinating with design teams and contractors, budgeting for materials, keeping pace with schedule, and reviewing and maintaining building standards. These are all the important ‘behind-the-scenes’ responsibilities that help keep a project from falling apart. In short, specifications writers make the impossible possible; they hold important positions in the process necessary to bring a building to life.

Take for instance NZI Architect’s A+Award-winning transformation of an office building into a student residence in Paris’ 15th arrondissement. Beyond the design of the building itself, the project presented a host of challenges; the limited space construction teams would have to rehabilitate the building, given the density of the pre-existing office spaces; the need to cut down on energy consumption due to costs constraints and ecological considerations; and most pressingly, the need to keep disturbance from construction at a minimum, given the populous surrounding neighborhood.

Rather viewing these factors as limitations, NZI Architect’s team found ingenious ways to surmount the challenges. For one, the firm chose to prefabricate the walls in a nearby factory using timber frames and re-used bales of straw from the Paris region as insulation. This solution of pre-fabricating parts and using locally sourced materials helped shorten the supply chain and cut costs down significantly. On the construction site, the prefabricated light-weight walls could easily be handled by smaller lifting gear, significantly reducing the waste, duration and noise of the construction. And though the end result is itself very impressive, the entire architectural process — from materials’ research to supply chain planning to onsite construction — could not have been possible without the dogged coordination work of the firm’s specifications writers.

Transformation of an office building into a wood and straw 139 student rooms by NZI Architectes in Paris, France was the Jury Winner in the the 10 Annual A+Awards’ Architecture + Sustainability category.

Want to help coordinate and make possible ambitious architectural projects? Consider applying to firms currently hiring for specifications writers:

EskewDumezRipple (EDR) is a New Orleans and Washington DC-based group of architects, designers and thinkers operating in the fields of architecture, interior design, research, and urban strategies. The firm has earned a reputation for designing projects that are programmatically thoughtful and technically sophisticated as well as cost and resource conscious. They are hiring for a specifications writer for their New Orleans office.

LMN Architects is also currently hiring for a specifications writer. The firm has a reputation for rigorous attention to project delivery – from complex assemblies to strict budgets and schedules, and innovative construction delivery—in which specifications writers play an integral role. The firm offers flexible workdays to allow employees to determine what working hours best suit their personal commitments.

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