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Chuck out the spec?

Ok… before anyone accuses me of being reckless and advising to ditch a visual concrete specification, this blog entry is about an interesting outside the box conversation I had with an architect last week.

The project in question is an under construction passive house in Hackney with a fair faced concrete basement structure. Whilst there may be some remedial works to undertake the concrete in general looked rather good. Whilst discussing the process of procurement the architect described the difficulty in sourcing a reasonably priced contractor who could offer the exacting finish they required. This became increasingly frustrating and so the architect rather radically chucked the spec in the bin. The specification was subsequently replaced by a simple ‘do the best job possible please’ instruction which, in all honesty, didn’t give a worse result than a lot of tightly specified works that I see.

Although essentially risky, the architect managed to get more or less what was required through simplifying the process and relying on good old hard work, common sense and trust. A breath of fresh air I’d say.

So this scenario got me thinking about the number of times I’ve seen contractors getting bashed by very stringent interpretations of visual concrete specifications and the subsequent risk management they employ which inevitably increases costs. This harks back to a previous conversation I’d had with Ellis Williams Architects and how a steel structure had won over visual concrete because it was cheaper (initially). The concrete contractor had possibly managed out risk through increasing their price and so concrete wasn’t used in the end.

So chuck out the spec? It worked in this instance but instead, perhaps we should be adopting a more common sense approach to our interpretations of the specification using it more as a framework for quality rather than a contractual battering ram.

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