My insurance broker told me “premiums are going up”, when I asked why, he said “it’s scary how many notifications are now coming through, especially with cladding systems”. Fair enough I said.

It’s timely to discuss how to best protect yourself as the designer, and how the specification is a good place to start.

Some Misconceptions

The specification isn’t that important because no-one reads it.

Thankfully this outdated opinion is fading fast. As architects we have been extensively trained to know better, just because a builder says it’s not important, doesn’t make it so, it just means it serves them better not to have one.

Every specification is the same.

We have seen examples of architects using the same specification for any type of procurement, including for pre and post-novation purposes.

There are very different requirements in either defining the buy to the contractor (pre-novation), or finalising the design and providing a resolved ‘materials and workmanship’ type specification for the nominated subcontractors (post-novation). Understanding the construction contract informs you how the specification aligns risk and responsibility.

It doesn’t matter what the procurement is.

This is critical, otherwise how can you correctly detail the project through drawings; schedules and the specification. The contract details who takes on risk and responsibility, which must be reflected in the design documents.

My role doesn’t change.

The consultancy agreement, construction contract and your design documents should all be aligned.

Starting off on the right foot

Next to the contract, the specification is the most important document in conveying your design requirements. It typically sits higher than drawings and schedules in the order of precedence.

Before even considering starting the specification: let’s understand the nominated procurement route and specific construction contract; who the parties involved are; their duties; their risk and responsibility. This then informs us how best to prepare the specification.

Let’s take a D&C procurement route with novation of the design team as an example:

Pre-Novation: The design consultant is required to provide design intent backed up by minimum performance requirements. You are not required to make product selections, however we understand that it does help further control the qualityof the final design. If you do decide to nominate a manufacturer/product, then make sure that it is a compliant product.

  • The specification is set up as a single performance based document and written descriptively, which defines the “buy” to the tendering contractors.
  • The specification is directed at the contractor and forms part of the Principal’s Project Requirements (PPR).

Post-Novation: The design team may be novated to the contractor to complete the design as part of the contractor’s team, or another architect/design team may be appointed. The contractor retains responsibility for the design and the design development. The design team take on responsibility through their appointment via the contractor.

  • The pre-novation perfomance specification requires a major overhaul.
  • The specifications are packaged up to suit the contactor’s trade packaged procurement route, which can be prescriptive, descriptive, or a mixture of both.
  • The specification packages are now directed at the relevant subcontractors from the contractor.
  • A prescriptive specification now provides details for a fully detailed and resolved/prescribed solution.
  • Overarchin performance statements, indicative to products, unresolved performance based descriptions all need to be removed and replace.
  • A helpful tip: A pre-novation specification should never be used as a post-novation specification. They have completely different purposes and parties involved.

Our goal has always been to support designers. The recent Decision of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal on the Lacrosse apartment building matter has certainly stirred up interest and questioned companies’ own approach and methods of documentation, I know it has with our team at SCL | Schumann, which has reaffirmed our core values and processes already in place. 

Understandin your requirements is a great start. Knowing how best to respond to this is critical!