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Teaching Specification (CPD) G#39019

GBE CPD Specification & Liability

Teaching Specification CPD

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Paper presented to Seminar 10/02/93 at the University of Westminster given by Brian Murphy.


Teaching Specification and Other Related Skills

  • Need to get students “Office-Ready” or capable of finding their way around in the office & library.
  • As a consultant specification writer working for the past seven years with practices ranging from the two man bands to the international multi-office partnerships and working on projects valued between £100,000. and £450m
  • I have become aware that there are few architects who are interested in or good at preparing specifications, and most don’t see it as part of the design process. 
  • I have come to realise that this is not just because of individuals indifference or inability, but stems back to the nature of the training given at Schools of Architecture.
  • I have collected together a few extracts from the pages of the recently revitalised and now extremely accessible Architects Journal which illustrate and put into words my frustrations and concerns in a way far better than I could achieve myself,
  • More importantly in the words of fellow practitioners who are each respected highly for their contributions to our general awareness of contractual and legal pitfalls that await the weak specifier or contract administrator.

Teaching Architects the right stuff

  • See: Architects Journal: 23/09/92: Page 29:
  • Ray Cecil  “Teaching Architects the right stuff.”
  • Commenting on the RIBA report to Department of Education and Science (now Department for Education) on the nature of courses offered at colleges and their proposal to reduce courses to five years: 
  • “The report largely ignores issues which have troubled the profession increasingly over recent years,
    • namely……the appropriateness of the skills with which they (the students) emerge, and the role that the practicing profession has to play in the education process.”
  • “Much of the criticism of the schools focuses on the centrality of design skills to the exclusion or detriment of management, technology, construction technique, legislative constraints and the ability to communicate both graphically and verbal.”…
    • “-but it is these other skills that are most in demand in the construction industry and in the profession.”
  • “Within the schools, those who cannot show an aptitude for inspirational design are often severely neglected and their other talents remain undeveloped.
  • We are told that here in University of Westminster this is not the case.
  • Many of them are failed or drop out before or at first degree.” …..
    • ” We need to look at the balance of courses and the quality of instruction in the ‘peripheral skills’.
  • Most especially, we need practitioners to be teaching in our schools.
  • Current funding problems in our schools are actually reducing the number of part-time lecturers, while some schools are attempting to prohibit part-time practice by contracted staff”

How do the colleges justify their position? 

  • Compare it with the RIBA’s CPD leaflet?
  • “What counts?  ‘The systematic maintenance, improvement and broadening of knowledge and skill and the development of personal qualities necessary for the execution of the professional and technical duties throughout the practitioners working life’.
  • Examples of activities which could constitute part of a structured practical CPD plan:….
    • Technical and professional conferences, lectures, workshops, seminars and courses.
    • Teaching /tutoring/mentoring (those not in teaching posts).
    • Practice (those in teaching posts)…..”
  • Ray cecil: 
  • “The whole concept of practical training has to be reviewed. 
  • In many offices, including many of the largest, it is a joke. 
  • Students and graduates are employed on whatever work they are capable of with little or no reference to their professional development.”

Niel Pepperell RIP.
“Profile: The Liability Man.”
RIBA Liability Research Ltd.

  • See: Architects Journal: 07/10/92: Page 30-31:
  • Quote  “In the corner of Neil Pepperell’s office sits the ultimate authority on the many and varied ways in which architects fail. (a computer database of 6000 cases)….
  • His brief was to reduce the traditionally high risk faced by architects and institute a feed-back system to circulate information on faults lines emerging in contracts, specification and services.
  • See Also (Liability alerts RIBA Journal)
  • He seems to be succeeding: ‘At the start people would ring me up after the disaster, these days, I’m getting a much higher proportion of calls trying to avoid the disaster in the first place.
  • Tactics may change, but the causes of the claims remain consistent.
  • Too often, architects don’t know enough about the materials they’re specifying.”
  • It is his intimate knowledge of the materials and the products industry gives him such an edge in the liability field.” ……
  • “Then, in 1981, he invented the ‘Turboblock’, a 150 mm aerated concrete block to replace the standard 100 mm block, but the main lesson I learned here was about how architects specify.
  • Most people specifying blockwork didn’t know the product. 
  • It could be dense, light, aggregate, whatever.
  • To architects, a block was a block.”
  • GBE Slogan: “And in the touchy and litigious world of the building design, ignorance is no excuse.”
  • “Pepperell meets many architecture students in the course of lectures, and (he) wishes they were taught more about building science.” ……
  • “Schools are obsessed with design.
    • Not enough time is spent examining the physics of movement. 
    • Or chemistry: if you don’t know what’s in the material, you end up putting things side by side that don’t like each other.”
  • ” Pepperell is a CPD Missionary -‘as a profession, architects are introspective ‘-and believes a new awareness of how buildings perform is essential.
  • GBE Slogan: “You must interrogate the data”.
  • Clients are always asking to lower the specification.
  • GBE Editor:
    • Clients are always being asked to lower the specification
    • Contractors are always lowering the specification by substitution
  • Just remember that parts are not used in isolation.

“The real needs of the managing architect.”

  • See: Architects Journal: 18/11/92: Page 17-18:
  • Marion Hancock  “The real needs of the managing architect.””design is the last thing British architects need to know about, according to Andrew Seidel’s research.”
  • Andrew Seidel, collaborating with Martyn Symes at Manchester University and Joanne Eley in London, is in the throes of completing the biggest study of British architects ever conducted.
  • The whole will ultimately be published in the form of a book, which Seidel hopes will include comparative data on US architects.
  • Seidel points to the way in which Architects have been shedding areas of service as they become more scientific.
    • “Once upon a time architects did the engineering. 
    • They wouldn’t dare do that today. 
  • Today they hire a specialist for the lighting, for the acoustics, for human behaviour – architects can be legally in trouble if they don’t”
  • See Also GBE CPD: “I used to be a Master Builder, Today I don’t do that”
  • Seidel’s point is that while the attack continues and the field of experience once governed by architects is encroached upon by other disciplines and sub-disciplines, nothing is happening in the education system to reflect or cope with the change.
  • Quite the contrary, the emphasis within education has, claims Seidel, been more and more upon design, leaving clients with and increasing gap in the provision of services.
  • For Seidel, the big question resulting from all these clues is: why do architecture courses today specialise in design – almost to the exclusion of everything else – when there is considerable doubt about the power of design skills alone to shore up the existence of the profession?
  • The British survey drew an impressive 52% response from the target group of principals, chosen for their broader view than younger architects 
    • “the views of people fresh out of school are just as important , but that is a different survey”.
  • Analysis of the results is still going on but some trends are already clear, in particular the fact that ‘architects want a knowledge base’ to help them cope with the changing demands of professional practice.
  • On average British architects are spending 60 to 68% of their week on management activities – such things as site supervision, meeting clients, co-ordinating consultants, meeting project managers, developing construction budgets and writing staff manuals.
  • “72% said they spend a day a week or more on building design, but that means that 28% – and these are principals, remember – are actually spending less than a day a week on building design.”
  • Gathering information, of any kind, attracts only 3% of the average architect’s time  – “embarrassingly little”, as Seidel says.
  • Asked in which areas they felt they had been adequately trained,……..History of architecture.
  • In most other areas, however, confidence was lacking. 
  • “It is shocking that they are spending so much time on management activities and yet we teach them virtually nothing in schools about management. 
  • A lot of these things are not in any way on the Architects curriculum. 
  • At the moment architects train by a tag team apprenticeship – a round robin apprenticeship whereby you tutor under a series of staff for four or five years, and you learn through a process as indirect as intellectual osmosis.
  • “Some people say that any training in aspects of management is a CPD activity.
  • But I quite honestly feel that it should be part of university education because, in reality few architects focus on design in their practices.
  • Do all architects need to specialise in design anyway?
  • Design is critically important, but it’s not enough for long term – maintenance of licensure”.
  • And that is another issue which has raised its head a great deal in the journals recently!

What is to be done?

  • There is a need for Academic training tempered by Practical training or practice awareness.
  • Part-time education and concurrent practice, plus CPD (Continuing Professional Development)
  • V’s  Full-time Formal education, one year-out plus CPD (Continuing Professional Development)
  • For my money the part time route wins hands down.
  • What does the formal academic education provide?
  • RIBA syllabus?  Phone the RIBA Education department, even they don’t seem to know!
    • Building technology, Materials, Structures, Services, Design skills & Professional Practice ?
    • Professional Practice:  Legal, English Law, Contractual issues/Case Lore, Terms of Engagement. JCT’80, The Building Regulations.
  • Where are: Office Awareness?  Office Practice?  Office Procedures?
  • Construction Industry Awareness?  Design Procedures?  Quality Assurance?
  • Risk Management?  Professional Indemnity Insurance?

Everyday office activities

What follows is a list of questions related to every day office activities,  I wonder:

  • How many offices give formal training on these matters?
    • How many practices know the answers themselves?
    • How many practices complain about students, but do nothing about it themselves?
    • How long will it take a student to find out these things by their own devices?
    • How long does it take for a student to be really useful around the office?

How many full-time students straight out of college could answer the following?

  • Office and Library Awareness:
    • What is in the office technical and product Library?
    • What can you expect to find there?
    • What role does the Librarian play?
    • What role does each publication play in the office activities?
    • How will each help in designing a building or any other process in the office?
    • What role does each publishing organisation play?
  • What is the Building Centre?
  • Who and what were MPBW, GLC, C&CA, CCPI, NEDO, (PSA!)?
    • What role did they play?
  • What role does BRE, BSI, BBA, BDA, BPIC, RIBA, DTI, CIRIA, IoAAS, CIIG, play?
  • What is a BRE Digest and why do PI Insurers recommend we read them?
    • What is a Good Building Guide, Defects Action Sheet, Information paper?
  • What is the status of a Draft for Development or Published Document, BSEN, EN, ISO, EU ?
  • How do we keep up to date with BSI documents?
  • Which Publication are “Authoritative”?
  • What is the significance of an BBA Agrément certificate or a BSI Kitemark Licensee?
  • What are (ISO 9001, EN 29001?)
  • What is NAMAS?
  • What do testing houses do?
  • What is the status of an “assessment”?
  • What do CI/SfB, CPI, CAWS, SMM7 mean?
  • What is shelved at (A3u), (2-), Xt6 or Z20 ?
  • What does meeting a BCO or DS (District Surveyor was the London Borough equivalent of BCO), EHO or FPO mean?
  • What does “Deemed to satisfy” mean?
  • What was a special about “1992”?
    • What effect will Health and Safety Directives have on buildings or the whole design process?
    • What is the Treaty of Rome? 
      • What effect does it have on a designer?
    • What is the CPD, CPR, CE mark, ETA? 
    • What is a Technical Barrier?
    • What are “Proper Materials”?
    • What are the Essential Requirements?
    • What is in the June ’92 Building Regulations, to do with Europe?
  • Whose responsibility is the Specification?
    • QS, Engineer, Contractor or Architect?
  • What do the following have in common:
    • PSA, PSA MOB, FIRA, NBA, TCS, AWA, CWCT ?

What can be and what is being done about it? 

  • Its not always what you know, but it’s knowing where to find out, but more important than anything else, it is the desire to know and to understand!
  • What is being done about it?
  • I have for the last two years taken steps to pass on the knowledge I have acquired in my role as an independent consultant specification writer, by giving papers through the BFS Conferences, on the subject of:
    • “Performance Specification:  Curtain walling”, “:Flexible flat roofs” and “:Metal roofs”
    • I am currently participation in the BFS Forum Peer group meetings and Helplines, next year in the BFS Regional Forum.
  • But this only deals with the Technical Directors and Specification Mangers of practices!
  • I have also started giving papers to Practices directly at their in-house Staff Development Programmes and CPD Continuing Professional Development activities:
    • ‘State of the Art Specification and Information Systems’ at DEGW London Ltd. last year, ‘
    • Specification 1992 and beyond: Prescriptive and Performance’ at GMW in this year, and hopefully more in the future.
  • This only deals with the architects already in larger practices!
  • I have approached RIBA local chapters I will present CPD lectures and more papers on the subject:
    • ‘Specification and its relation to design’ at RIBA Cambridge on the 1st of April and more later to the regions throughout the year.
  • This deals with architects already in small and medium firms and redundant architects!
  • I have indicated that I wish to collaborate with the Universities and Polytechnics to offer a CPD lecture series on specification, to help to ensure that the right material is available to newly qualified architects and students.
  • The role of the course can only be ‘to offer doors’ to the students, it is up to them to open them and see where they take them.
  • University of Westminster have indicated their willingness to offer premises to hold CPD lectures and possibly to hold a 12 week combined CPD course and optional Specification half-module for London Building and Architectural courses. consisting of Specification, lectures, workshops, training programmes,
  • The University of North London have also indicated a possibility of collaborating in a research project to provide students with an ‘expert system’ or ‘knowledge base’ to guide them through  the various stages of designing components and buildings to the appropriate authoritative source documents to help them understand the process, and through familiarity then be able to work out similar routes for other projects all part of the specification process.
  • The Schools could benefit from collaboration with practicing Specification Writers in their course activities, lectures, workshops, tutoring, possibly attending studio scheme ‘crits’.
  • An opportunity to impress upon the students the need to understand the whole process of design, to be aware of the roles of all those organisations and their publications and to know how to put them to good use.
  • The intention is to help the Architectural students to be aware from the outset of all that is available to aid them in their work.
  • ASWS and ASNET  will also be able to offer a route to different and specialist roles for architects to play in their career should they find they enjoy the discipline of specification writing and all the peripheral skilled and activities that it entails.
  • This will help students to become a more saleable commodity, helping them become more useful, and capable in the office from the outset.
  • I would hope also to encourage them to specialise and participate in and make the most of CPD throughout their working lives.

ASWS      Architectural Specification Writing Service
ASNET    Architectural Specification Network (No Longer Active)
Brian R Murphy ONC HNC Construction BSc Dipl Architecture (Hons+Dist)


© Copyright AJ 1992-1993
© GBE GBC GBL NGS ASWS Brian Murphy aka BrianSpecMan **
1993 – 13th January 2021

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© GBE GBC GBL NGS ASWS Brian Murphy aka BrianSpecMan **
1992 – 13th January 2021

Teaching Specification (CPD) G#39019 End.

GBE Title CPD (Template) G#13660

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