Construction Specifications, Certifications & the In-House Spec Writer

By Alexander Lungershausen

In-house specifications writer at Hennebery Eddy Architects examining architectural drawings at a desk.
Hennebery Eddy's lead in-house specifications writer Alexander Lungershausen

An experienced, well-rounded architect knows that good architecture goes beyond design itself. Successful buildings – those that serve their occupants well and are constructed of high-quality materials able to stand the test of time – incorporate the specialized expertise of a specifications writer. An often overlooked and increasingly outsourced position, the spec writer is an invaluable member of the in-house design team. In this post, Associate Principal Alexander Lungershausen, AIA, CSI, CCS, CCCA, LEED BD+C, explains the role of the construction specifications writer, the benefits of having in-house expertise, and yes, what all the letters after his name actually mean.

How/why did you become involved in CSI Portland?

As an architect, I’ve always had an inherent interest in the technical aspects of the profession and how they influence design. I was originally educated in Germany, where the technical side of this industry is as highly regarded and taught as the artistic side. In 2001, a colleague in the office where I was working invited everyone to attend technical presentations put on by CSI Portland. I began to attend these presentations regularly, and eventually became the specifications writer at that firm. I also became more and more involved with CSI, becoming a committee leader and then a board member. While drawings tell you where elements are in a building’s design, specifications tell you what  those elements are. Specifications control the quality and the workmanship in the execution of a project.  A building that is assembled well performs well, which leads to return commissions.

What led to you pursue certification as a CCS and CCCA?

Initially I became a Certified Document Technologist (CDT). That certification demonstrates an understanding of the documents and the relationships between all the parties who are involved in the construction of a project. Passing the CDT exam is a prerequisite for CSI’s advanced certifications.

I became a Certified Construction Specifier (CCS) because it is a great way to develop a better understanding of the interaction of all the information bound into the specifications. Beyond the materials, products, and quality control, specifications also manage the relationship between all involved during construction. Not many people do it – most architects are in this field because they want to design and draw; I am no exception to that. That also means there aren’t as many people focused on specifications, or teaching that skill set. Preparing for the exam involved two to three hours of studying each evening for many months. The exam questions check understanding, not simply whether you’ve memorized the preparation materials.

Becoming a Certified Construction Contract Administrator (CCCA) was a way to evolve my building documentation knowledge and better comprehend the relationships between the owner and contractor during the period of construction and beyond. Specifications expand on the contractual relationships between Owner, Contractor, and Architect. I believe it is invaluable to better understand where the legal lines are drawn and how to best create an underlying set of rules that allow a smooth management of these contractual relationships.

Do your certifications and training/expertise impact your work at Hennebery Eddy, in terms of your project design work and more broadly? Is your role, or your perspective, different than architects without this training and certification?

As a spec writer on big projects and as a mentor on smaller projects, I get to teach people to write their own specs, which helps them realize the importance of controlling this aspect of our work. If people are forced make decisions of all aspects of a product/material, they realize quickly what an important tool the specifications are. Functionally speaking, I continue to work on a variety of projects, which keeps me connected to the design and client relationships. And, as a primary point of contact for our many vendors, I enjoy working with the individuals at manufacturing companies who have expertise and have allowed me to become an easily accessible technical resource.

What are the benefits of having CCS and CCCA certified individuals in house?

To my knowledge, I’m the only person in Portland with both CCS and CCCA certifications. In-house spec writers are becoming rare. There is software that facilitates spec writing, but it doesn’t necessarily translate to people having the knowledge to successfully put together specifications. An in-house specifications writer offers the advantage of touching many projects, which creates an ongoing learning and sharing between projects; I usually hear pretty quickly what can be improved in our project documentation. As an in-house spec writer, I can continually incorporate the experience into our developing office specification master and am also the keeper of Hennebery Eddy’s institutional memory. This institutional memory is one of the qualities that sets us apart from other firms. A trait many spec writers share is that we love learning. Products and systems change all the time, and I enjoy learning from vendors and manufacturers, who often know best about the innovations and challenges of their products and their respective installation. As an easily accessible resource during the development of projects, an in-house spec writer has a calming effect on the team and therefore the development of the project.

Anything other thoughts you’d like to add?

It’s very important to me to share the positive influence of specifications writing on the success of projects. I hope emerging architects will start building an interest in spec writing earlier in their careers, because it’s a part of an architect’s skill set. CSI is a great way to learn more, not just through certifications, but to by getting involved in a community whose primary goal is to bring all involved in the building industry together and break down the silo mentality.