In the construction industry, projects are defined by drawings (graphic data) and specifications (non-graphic data). Traditional construction specifications is the set of documents arranged by MasterFormat®, a consensus document that provides a list of numbers and titles for consistently organizing specifications.

However, specifications are more. Specifications provide explicit, precise, requirements to be satisfied by a material, product, design, service or facility. Specifications are the quality assurance plan used to purchase materials and services to construct a facility an owner requires. Specifications are also quality control means to measure compliance of the constructed result against the prescribed requirements. The Alpha and Omega.

Non-graphic data encompass massive amounts of essential information that impose the constraints for the problem that the design must solve. Specifications begin when the owner confirms a facility is required. What purpose must the facility serve? What functions must the facility support? The answers to these questions form the beginning of the project program or project brief that specifies the design problem.

Specifications for many criteria are design agnostic, and must precede design. The thermal performance requirements for a building envelope does not depend on system or material selections. Instead, it does depend on the owner’s operational criterion for total energy use. Time value of money and quality drive this decision. Must the building meet the code minimum (least necessary first cost) or must the building perform better than code based on a more detailed cost/benefit analysis (appropriate value and cost)? The designer must provide unbiased advice to inform the owner of available options and implications. Then the owner, not the designer, must specify what is required. The designer must select systems meeting the specifications and validate conformance with the specifications.

Design must satisfy the project specifications that encompass all owner project requirements (OPR), including:

  • Project design program
  • Existing conditions
  • Regulatory requirements
  • Environmental criteria
  • Design criteria
  • Performance requirements
  • Qualitative project requirements

When requirements are specified, design validation is possible. When essential criteria are missing or unstated, validation is not possible. Without specifications, discussion of design solutions may devolve into personal preference rather than meeting the owner’s requirements. There will be no definitive measure to evaluate alternative solutions, except perhaps aesthetics and cost. Without a specification, essential criteria may be ignored.

Specifications are the dynamic decision record that starts day-one and evolves throughout conception, design, construction, and commissioning, capturing design criteria, performance requirements, and systems descriptions that are essential for the owner’s successful facility operations. When used to comprehensively record decisions as they occur, specifications give owners the best chance possible to operate their facility as the OPR and design intended. And accurate specifications records continue to serve the owner as the knowledge basis to guide design and construction of future additions, alterations, and new facilities.