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  • Vivian Volz

You might be a specifier!

Updated: Jul 20, 2023

Wondering if the cows are Division 05 or 12? You might be a specifier.

I'm in a rewarding design career that I love. I'm in demand. At 45, I'm one of the younger members of my specialty. While, in some circles, we have an undeserved rap as a dying breed of old curmudgeons, it just ain't so! This post is written in the hope of helping identify the new, dynamic design professional to join me in this career.

I am here to tell you, there will always be a role for someone with a knack for organizing verbal information in design and construction work. For the sake of simplicity, even though that role has room for evolution, let's refer to this person as a specifier.

If you were accused of writing too much on your drawings in school...

... you might be a specifier. That really happened to me in architecture school. Lots of descriptions of how the leather was oiled, not dyed, and how the wood was hand-rubbed. The (visual, non-specifier) architect who was my professor thought writing about it was not getting the drawings done. Of course, he was right about that, but it was getting the visualization done in my head. I think this combination of knowing how I want things to look, feel, and smell and being able and inclined to write about it - that's the combination of features a good architectural specifier will have.

Lots specifiers are architects (or all-but-license near-architects) who became specifiers relatively late in their careers, seeing it as a chance to be less active in the field. A few of us are parents who took it on when the kids were small. This is often a specialty taken on after ten to twenty-five years of experience as an architect. Project managers and architects experienced in contract administration who were called upon to write specs occasionally may have discovered they liked it or had a knack for it. They may have liked the flexible hours (compared to job site hours!) or the quiet, heads-down work. Many of us came into it more or less by accident, so it could happen to you, too.

If you enjoy puzzles...

... you might be a specifier. Specs are like puzzles: every piece of information has a place it belongs, and some pieces are connected to others in surprising ways. You might be a specifier if you also enjoy tracking down and coordinating drawing details, sections and plans, or keynotes. I was the consistency police on my projects, even as an intern: making sure expansion joints were continuous through various materials and planes, making sure elevations wrapped around corners correctly, making sure submittals contained all the paints or carpets or doors in the scope.

You don't have to go to architecture school to be a specifier, and many architecture schools aren't really equipped to educate someone to be a specifier. Some of the most prominent specifiers in the US came to the career from an administrative role, evolving out of a project secretary or word-processing role. Organizing information used to be physical and tedious paper-pushing (and we didn't always expect architects to be capable of typing!) so there used to be much more of a role for administrative staff on project teams. Now that this role is dwindling, one of the other common career paths for specifiers is shrinking too. But, by the same token, growing into a specifier role is a great growth path for an administrator who pays attention to the information being organized.

If you can find an answer in a code book... might be a specifier. Like specifications, building codes are written in outline form and are full of rules and exceptions. If you're the person who always has the code book at his or her desk, or who chose a desk to be nearer the library, you might make an excellent specifier. Doggedly hunting down an answer buried in a thick book of text may be easier with "search" functions and electronic versions, but it still takes excellent reading comprehension and careful checking of the context to come out of the text forest with an answer.

In fact, if you've read all the way to the end of this post, you might be a specifier! If you recognize yourself in any of these stories or paths, consider contacting me or your local CSI chapter for support. There are lots of ways to learn more about the specifier's role on a design team.

This post is in honor of CSI's CONSTRUCT Show in Nashville, September 24-27, and the terrific support I get in my career from all my CSI friends and mentors.

Photo Credit: Cow Lawn Art by Wayne Wilkinson.

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