Too many times I have been called to look at some problem only to find that the specifications virtually guaranteed the poor result. Too often specifications are simply rehashed from a previous project, even including the outdated references. The specifications appear to be an afterthought to the design, containing provisions that are in conflict with the drawings or even with other parts of the same specification. Others are written from scratch, including language that is imprecise and/or unenforceable. Many refer to old standards that in some cases are no longer in print.

To assure good quality results, specifications must be specific as well as reasonable, and details must be buildable. For example, it is impossible to hide construction joints in formed concrete without some type of applied coating or finish. In architectural concrete structures it is far better to highlight the joint, making it part of the overall effect. Also, one should avoid large wall areas that have no texture or rustication; Any variation in the surface will cause all blemishes to be highlighted by shadows whenever light is projected at a small angle to the surface.


What can be done about the specification problem? Probably the best solution is to adopt a standard specification such as "ACI Standard Specification for Structural Concrete for Buildings" (ACI 301-72; Revised 1981) for all concrete work. This is a complete specification with all the necessary cross-references and a complete, up-to-date list of reference standards. ACI 301 was written for this very purpose to be used as a reference standard specification. Use of ACI 301 as part of the specification for all concrete buildings would go a long way to minimize problems. In addition, it would save the specifier money, reduce conflicts and provide other side benefits.