Architectural Specifications - What is it? & How Important is it?

Today in Nottingham, Architecture North is attending this years Specifi event at the Crowne Plaza, where we will be meeting world class industry speakers to kick start the event with a healthy dose of energy and inspiration, igniting many conversations that continue throughout the evening.


What is Architectural Specifications?

Well first lets start will a simple scenario. Have you ever failed to be specific? When was the last time you didn’t describe something specific enough? Failing to do so might have resulted in someone getting lost from your incomplete directions, or worse, lost a contract or project that was meaningful to you.

Architectural spectications are developed thought out RIBA Work Stage 4 - Developed Design. Our documents, specify everything and failure to communicate specifically could create massive change in orders, cost overruns and schedule delays, which can negatively impact your bottom line. In fact, specifics are such a key element of architecture that there is an entire formal process dedicated to them.

Although our drawings and certain documents illustrate what a building should look like visually, an in-depth written explanation is needed to describe whole construction process.

Our architectural specifications are documents prepared ahead of construction to describe how the building should be carried out by contractors and subcontractors. As its name implies, they are descriptions that go beyond what photos and videos can explain and require a high-level of detail. As a rule of thumb, specifications will usually never over-explain how to build. The vast majority of problems occur when specifications fail to provide enough information. Without the dedication and proper execution of these documents, issues will likely arise when the project is finally executed.

Also known, as specs, detail the work and workmanship needed to complete any construction project. And unfortunately there’s no way to get around them. Within our practice they are a required documents during the design phase, as they form part of the formal tender process, as they describe in detail the scope of work, materials to be used, methods of installation, and quality of workmanship for the work, and to be placed under contract; usually utilised in conjunction with the contractual drawings in building construction.

Whilst i already note we have used the word specification thirteen times and we are on the seventh paragraph we cannot stress the importance of these documents, as the specifications (14 times) are prepared before construction begins, in RIBA Work Stage 4 as part of the contractural documents. Whilst each project differs project-by-project, our specifications reflects the packages to be given to subcontractors from contractors, as this can be extremely helpful in the tender process.


So, Who Handles the Specifications?

We do, for all of our projects Architecture North handles all of our own speficiations in house, our project range from a simple proposed new build garage, through to an extension, renovations, all the way up to our recently completed new build project at Tidbury Green.

Whilst some practices do not write up any specifications, others will also delegate them but with our breadth of technical knowledge ensures all details are covered within our own practice.

Whilst they are separate from design drawings themselves, specifications should be complementary to your drawings and prepared in tandem. So, if the design advances, so should the specifications, with more and more details being added as plans get more complex.

Why Are Specifications Important?

The clearer a description is, the more likely it will be executed correctly.

Specifications can be considered a lot of like data. Without access to the right and an abundance of data, projects can easily fail. As architectural projects become more and more complex and budgets become scrutinised, access to ample data is critical to making the right decisions when building. Most importantly, if specifications are done correctly, they reduce risk. In architecture, controlling risk is essential to managing end-to-end project lifecycle.

Specifications are particularly important during the tender process for pricing. With solid specs, the contractor should have no doubt about pricing during this process.


Main Types of Construction Specifications

Each project is unique and will need a different set of specifications and most likely corresponding packages. However, there are three main types of construction specifications commonly used on projects:

  • Prescriptive: Provides details on the types of materials and installations needed to complete a project. Additionally, prescriptive specifications also describe how to measure installations to ensure that they were up to project quality and standards.

  • Performance: Describes the operational requirements. Fundamentally, the performance specifications should describe to the contractor what is needed for the final product and how it should essentially function once completed. 

  • Proprietary: Although not as common as prescriptive and performance, proprietary specifications are used if only one specific product can be used for an installation.

Be Specific, Like Really Specific

Architectural specifications, although time-consuming and sometimes part of a tedious process, they are a necessary step in a successful project. If you’re an architect, spend the time to get these documents right so your vision for the project is executed correctly. If you’re an owner or contractor, ensure you have all the information you and your team needs to carry out the details of your project on time and budget. Just remember, being overly specific never hurt anyone in a construction process.

Thank you for reading our blog, this weeks blog was incredibly difficult, as specifications (37 times) is a really important document to accompany your RIBA Work Stage 4 - Developed Design for your tender process, but we are seeing more and more practices not emphasising these time consuming documents, and projects failing as their was no clarity or communication when the project was tendered. This is disheartening to us, as we receive projects which have been through this process, and we have to pick up the pieces and untangle the thread of events to get the project running again.

Even if you haven’t got a project with us, please contact your practice about the specifications, and ensure your contractor and subcontractors are adhering to this vital document.

Finally, whilst we have uploaded this blog - we are hoping to re circulate it on Wednesday with additional photos of the Specifi event held at the Crowne Plaza, Nottingham, Wollaton Street, Nottingham, NG1 5RH.

You can get your free tickets to the event here -