Overcoming Generational Knowledge Gaps in Architecture
By Jeff Potter, Specifications Writer, HMC Architects
When you hear the term "specifications" what is the first thought that pops in your head? Perhaps you think of your own firms' specifications writer, maybe a project manual, or a specific specification section. You may even have the ever so classic thought: Oh shoot, I need specs for my project tomorrow, and I haven't even started the process yet!
Whatever your initial thought is, those with a deep understanding of non-visual project data know how important is to a design project. It seems, however, that the deep knowledge of technical design is held by more experienced generations of architects. When I talk to recent architecture graduates about specifications, they typically respond with, "Aren't those the things that are related to the, MasterFormat Divisions?"
These young professionals, unfortunately, do not get exposure to specifications until later during their careers. Many do not receive the training required to understand the content within specifications. This begs the question: How are younger professionals learning about specifications and what can we do to better prepare them for the future?
A Deeper Look
Unfortunately, most architecture programs across the country do not dive deep into the world of specifications. Instead, the industry largely relies on this information being passed from generation to generation. If you ask a specification writer about how they learned their trade, chances are they will say they had a great mentor or several colleagues that took the time to teach them not only about specifications, but about how specifications and drawings are interconnected. So, if this has succeeded for the past 50+ years, why change it?
Information and knowledge flow is slowing, but not by choice. It’s not for a lack of great industry leaders, teachers, and mentors, but rather, because the industry is evolving. It is evolving into a digital age, where programs like Revit, Rhino, Grasshopper, and Dynamo are more commonly used. Young professionals are spending the bulk of their continuing education time learning these applications.
Knowing these types of programs can put junior architects one step ahead of the competition and, in theory, makes them more valuable to project teams. Project architects are still focusing on the technical aspects of design, while younger professional staff are evolving into an entirely new role and a new workflow. This dichotomy is an unintended consequence of digital transformation and does not allow for the same exchange of historical knowledge that previous generations relied upon.
Closing the Knowledge Gap
I recently had a conversation with a project architect, who is realizing that her younger staff are not getting the technical knowledge they need in order to advance in this profession. She is not alone, as many firms are hearing from contractors that construction documents are not what they used to be. So, this particular colleague is starting a training program for her staff, which is an important first step.
But the problem doesn’t end there. While there is a technical design knowledge gap for younger staff, they make up for it in other ways. This generation will bring the AEC industry into a digital age. It will be a complete transformation of the industry with the incorporation of "Evidence Based Design", "Scripting" and "Artificial Intelligence" in the Revit models. Firm leaders need to understand this and to make continuing education a priority for all staff.
Organizations like the Construction Specifications Institute or CSI offer great education opportunities and achievements, like Construction Document Technology (CDT), that focus on the construction documents as whole – not just specifications.
When it comes to specs, programs like Deltek's e-SPECS allow the Revit modeler to see how specifications are connected to the drawings. By simply clicking a button, a Revit modeler can see what sections are related to the Portland cement plaster wall they are working on. It allows them to begin the process of understanding the specifications and ask the questions to the project architect. They begin to realize that the design is just a design and cannot be constructed without quality setting and product information that resides in the specifications.
Finally, education can happen within the firm. Project architects should be explaining why items are detailed a certain way, not just telling them. Giving the why will allow the emerging architects have a broader understanding of design projects and set them up for success.
It Starts with Us
Last month, I sat down with another young project architect and taught them the differences between different below-grade waterproofing products. Because of this, he was able to make some improvements within his project, and it was a positive outcome. From what I see, this is how most young professionals learn best when it comes to technical knowledge. Which is why, subject matter experts need to be an important part of the project team and actively teach.
Industry leaders and firm leaders need to realize that this industry is evolving and that younger professionals are in a unique position of needing to learn both historical and innovative aspects of design. As a young professional myself, I am trying to demonstrate the importance of continuing education, but this needs to come from the top down.
For the past 50 years, the method of passing down knowledge has worked, but it won't work for the next 50 years. So, I challenge industry leaders and subject matter experts to not just teach young professionals about specifications, but to teach them the information technical aspects of the industry that they learned at a young age – before it’s too late. If done, we will see amazing things happen in our industry. And at the very least, we produce great construction documents.
About the Author
Jeff Potter is a Specifications Writer for the California based firm, HMC Architects, which primarily focuses on the Education, Health, and Civic Markets. When not writing specifications, Jeff is actively working towards improving the knowledge of specifications within his firm and the AEC Industry. Connect with Jeff on LinkedIn and his blog In My Element.
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