CSI Report Card - Part 1

by Sheldon Wolfe, CSI, CCS

In the coming year we'll celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of CSI. In that time, CSI has significantly influenced the way construction documents are prepared and used. It may be useful to reflect on our history to see what has been important, what is happening now, and where we are going.

In 1947 the founders of the Construction Specifications Institute expressed five goals for the new organization. In the next couple of columns we'll take a look at CSI's original intent and see how successful we have been. The goals were:

  • Better specification writing

  • Simpler specifications

  • Standardization of specifications for public works

  • Standardization of building codes

  • Greater efficiency and cost effectiveness throughout the industry

Goal No. 1 - Better specifications

In my first job as a specifier, I had the good fortune to work at the University of Minnesota. The University has an excellent records department, with fairly complete documents for buildings approaching one hundred years old.

Most of the project manuals I saw were well organized and, except for the occasional term that is no longer used, easy to interpret. By current MOP standards, though, they had several deficiencies.

Document organization was not universal. Similar information was not always in the same location, and there was some tendency toward "stream of consciousness" specifying. The subject might start with carpentry, go on to masonry, return briefly to carpentry, then go on to something else.

The Manual of Practice, first published in 1961, established a standard for specifiers across the nation. Unfortunately, its implementation has not been universal. The two major master guide specifications have been guilty of incomplete, inconsistent, and incorrect application of the MOP's principles, and many specifiers blatantly ignore the four Cs that are its heart. Because of these transgressions, many specifications are not as good as they should be.

The 1963 introduction of "The CSI Format for Construction Specifications" marked the beginning of an obvious trend toward a standard organization of information. Today's nearly universal acceptance of the 16 Divisions and the MasterFormat system clearly makes it easier to prepare and interpret construction documents.

Though a great improvement, our favored organization of specifications does have some faults. Until the last edition, it gave civil work much less attention than it deserves, and the relegation of mechanical and electrical work to a single Division each at least gives the appearance of an arrogant attitude about the work they cover.

Specifications are organized better today than in the past, but there is still room for improvement. CSI is now working with other construction organizations to further standardize location and presentation of information.

Despite the availability of the MOP, specification writing is not significantly better now than it was fifty years ago. This is largely a result of unnecessary complexity, the subject of next month's column.

Grade, Goal No. 1: B+

Report Card, Part 2    Report Card, Part 3    Report Card, Part 4

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