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  • Vivian Volz

Ignoring the Spec

an image of a woman tearing at her hair in fear.
What? Ignore the spec?

I’m specifying a system that depends as much on the fabricator as it does on the materials. In this case, it’s a concrete countertop, but really, it could be any sort of artisan construction. Another designer at the same firm did the same sort of product, in a different form, about a year ago, and I wrote the spec for that, too. So I asked the first team if they’d recommend the fabricator to the second team.

I got back, essentially, “Well, they didn’t really follow the spec, but they worked hard to match the existing.”

And I was shocked to find myself writing back:

If they did a nice job, matched existing, and worked well with your team, then whether they followed the spec is (sacrebleu!) perhaps a little less important. But if there's something they ignored or proposed to do differently because it didn't serve the project, I'd like to know.

What? A specifier telling you that ignoring a requirement in the spec might be okay? Does that ever happen? Well, it should, and it might happen more often than you think, if you made a habit of asking.

In this case, it’s because the skills of the artisan exceed the basic framework of materials in the spec. The spec in question placed a strong emphasis on the qualifications of the fabricator, requiring a photo portfolio of applicable past projects and giving the architect the right to accept or reject a proposed fabricator based on the work in the portfolio. The team had observed the most important requirement in the spec: qualifying the fabricator. (Go, team!)

Now, if we complete the circle, the expertise of the fabricator can even improve the quality of a future project, by informing the specifier of incorrect or unnecessary requirements. If, in the hands of an expert, a few requirements of the spec were ignored and the project went well anyway, we can fix the spec. Never fear.

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