The challenges of choice with Interior Finishes

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A specification consultant’s life is not easy and has a reputation for being somewhat mundane or even boring, but that very much depends on what type of building is being specified, where it is located, how the team is behaving and how unique the design is. I have been lucky in that, together with my team, I have worked on many of the world’s most iconic and challenging projects.

Having said that, at the end of the day all buildings have walls, floors, ceilings, envelopes, roofs, doors, etc. etc. and it is actually the combination of these components with the structural and MEP design that creates the space and visual intent envisaged by the architect, therefore the design, selection and specification of walls, ceilings and partitions is a fundamental aspect of any building design.

These three building elements are often considered as being some of the easier elements to design and specify, but that is not actually the case because of the sheer volume of choice that industry is able to supply to meet all expectations and design requirements. The “off the shelf” product range is huge, bespoke solutions are only limited by the designer’s imagination or the client’s budget and the endless options in terms of performance and finishes provide a number of challenges to the specification consultant.

The normal principles of specification writing apply as always, so for each of these interior finishes elements the designer can either be very specific and name actual products or systems (subject to European procurement legislation), set performance criteria and allow the contractor to supply a compliant product of his choice (it will always be the cheapest option), or stipulate clear visual intent criteria plus performance requirements with a strict regime of quality control through Working Drawings, samples, prototypes, benchmarks, etc. (contractor design or CDPS).

Architects fully appreciate and understand these three methods of specifying, but the fact that most projects these days seem to follow a version of design and build as the favoured procurement approach means that everything becomes a little more complicated. This is further enhanced when a design and build contractor is appointed at the end of scheme or detailed design at which point the architect is novated and has to provide final details for construction.

I appreciate that when it comes to design and build there are many variations on a theme, but the one thing they all have in common is that the contractor has liability for the design, its fitness for purpose and construction quality. As such the Employer’s Requirements become the design and build contractor’s Brief with attached incomplete design and specifications even if, and here is the rub, some elements are specified very precisely by name, manufacturer or product reference.

The consequence of this is that the contractor can change anything he wants provided he can demonstrate compliance with the contract. So, how can the specifications, which form part of the Employer’s Requirements, best deal with this issue? In my experience the best approach is to include as much information as possible, which usually results in providing a 90% plus specification for tender containing more information than shown on the drawings, or is normally expected at say schematic design.

This means that even if products are being named or indicated the specifier should also include visual intent and performance requirements, always ensuring that his original named products comply. The reason for this is that the contractor’s contract will require him to deliver what is in the specification and although it is perfectly reasonable for him to find faster or even cheaper solutions, these cannot be achieved through diminished quality or failure to provide a building that is fit for purpose in all regards.

 

Nick Schumann

Nick Schumann

Founder and Director at Schumann Consult Ltd
Having built the world’s largest specification consultancy and developed innovative methods for the implementation of new design management techniques Nick is considered to be one of the world’s leading authorities in his field writing, lecturing and providing advice to many industry leaders.
Nick Schumann

Posted on July 3, 2015 in Specifications

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