Mihaly SlocombeAre adaptableArchitects

Blog | Specify the what and the how, draw the where and the how much

I enjoy documenting. I enjoy the design thinking that goes into good detailing, the artfulness of laying out a page, the methodical assembly of a rigorous documentation set. As the years have passed, I have codified a list of ten rules for exceptional documentation. Some have been bestowed upon me by peers like perfect golden nuggets of wisdom, others have come to me in epiphanic dreams, and yet others I have had to learn the hard way with gritted teeth and much yelling.

I hereby release this list into the wilds of the internet so that future architecture students may stumble upon its wholesome goodness in their moments of need.

An archive of the list can be accessed here.

2. Specify the what and the how, draw the where and the how much

Rules for exceptional documentation

Imagine…

Sitting down to write a specification. You’ve never felt confident with this part of the documentation process, so you’ve borrowed a template from your old boss or downloaded one from a specification factory. You start reading the first page of the 150 page template, and your eyes glaze over. By page 10, your eyes are skipping fitfully across lines of indecipherable, generic gibberish. By page 20, you’re fast asleep. You awake an hour later, the pattern of your keyboard imprinted into the side of your face.

The specification is an often undervalued document, considered useful in court but not on site. It typically sits un-read in a drawer somewhere, unloved.

But in an exceptional documentation set, the specification is an essential tool that helps you compartmentalise different types of information. It is only as long as it needs to be, clearly written and referred to often. It describes what things are included, and how they are installed, and leaves the drawings to describe where they are installed and how much of them are needed. This rationally orders information, helps with Rule #1 and keeps the drawings squeaky clean.

For example:

  • Specify what the flooring is: 80 x 20mm Blackbutt timber floorboards.
  • Specify how it is installed: laid over 18mm structural plywood and secret nailed.
  • Draw where the flooring is: the living room, dining room and kitchen.
  • Draw how much is needed: 12 x 6m.

Image:

  1. Specify the what and the how, draw the where and the how much, author’s own image.