Myths about Specifications: Myth #2

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This is the second in a series of articles by Linton Stables, Senior Associate and Chief of Specifications at Perkins Eastman Architects. These articles, which were first published on the Perkins Eastman intranet, explore several issues that specifiers face in doing their work.

Myth Number 2:  In a Conflict Between Specs and Drawings, the Specifications Rule

What People Say: “When the specs say one thing and the drawings show something else, the specifications will always be the final word.”

Behind the Myth: Many people in the construction industry believe this is a true statement (or that some variation on it, such as the drawings having the final word, is true). Some governmental agencies have, in fact, required that such a statement be included in their general conditions which, of course, makes it true for that project.

The Truth: It is long-established in construction law that all of the contract documents have to be considered together in order to come up with a proper interpretation of the design intent. It says so explicitly in the AIA General Conditions. The reason is simple: A mistake or oversight in one set of documents cannot be automatically assumed to be the right answer just because it happens to appear in the “right” place, i.e. in the specifications. Specifiers make mistakes, too. (Did I say that?... Yes, it’s true.) The government agencies that require “order of precedence” statements are gambling that the correct answer lies in the document at the top of their list.

Facing the Truth: Architects need to coordinate the specifications and the drawings for their projects. Even so, some conflicts and omissions are bound to occur. The solution to this is for the Contractor (assuming that is who finds the conflict or omission) needs to ask for a clarification using the Request for Interpretation form that is included in every Project Manual, and using the process that is specified in the Requests for Interpretation section in Division 01.

The Consequences: Any system (like a specified “order of precedence”) that removes decision-making authority from the Architect over design (especially design related to the health, safety, and welfare of the building’s users) jeopardizes the Architect’s license.
Whenever an architect hears anyone repeat this bit of mythology, it is time to speak up, since not saying anything may imply that the statement is true.