Assignment of design, not a new concept

September 1, 2021

The portrait of Thomas Cubitt (1788–1855) appears in the brochure published by the Cubitts Company, “Holland & Hannen and Cubitts Ltd: The Inception and Development of a Great Building Firm” (1920). The picture is over 100 years old, Thomas Cubitt having died in 1855, has been extensively reproduced, and is in the public domain.

Assignment of design has occurred for as long as there have been architects, engineers, and constructors. The bipartisan arrangement of design professionals and constructors in the AEC community is a relatively new concept, and was first referenced as an approach to co-operative project delivery in about 1815 by Thomas Cubitt, a British master builder, who by the time of his death in 1855, had established himself as a predominant London architect, and honoured by Queen Victoria in her observation: “In his sphere of life, with the immense business he had in hand, his passing is a real national loss.”

Approaches to drawing and specification writing advocated by Cubitt were captured in Alfred Bartholomew’s book, Specifications for Practical Architecture, first published in 1840. A second book, written by Thomas Donaldson, Handbook of Specifications, was written in 1860, and built on Bartholomew’s works and introduced the concept of ‘skeleton specifications,’ which recognized the emerging open bidding approach to procurement, the lowered connection between documenters and constructors, and progression towards tendered, lowest-price winning the contract.

The abbreviated specification language introduced by these pioneers did not allow for full descriptive text within the construction documentation. It was no longer the responsibility of the master builder in the new approach to construction to dictate how something was built, rather they describe the mechanical intent for the constructor’s interpretation. There was a clear shift towards “describing what was required” as the responsibility of the architect and engineer, and “describing how to build” as the responsibility of the constructor.

Although there were other books published at this time, these books introduced concepts of shop drawings and material expenditure lists (product data submittal) to confirm the constructor’s understanding of work results, and was seen as an efficient method for assigning means and methods as the builder’s responsibility, clearly delineating the duties of the ‘Professional Man’ (the historic version of registered professional used in today’s language).

A. Bartholomew, Illustration of Approaches to Detailing Mechanics of Architecture, using the Human Form.

Concepts of specification writing, and assignment of design, has been further developed ever since, as illustrated by the following list of publications. Many of these books are still available on Amazon, some of which have been republished to preserve the significant history of these documents.

• 1840 Specifications for Practical Architecture; Bartholomew, Alfred; John Williams & Co., London

• 1841 Architectural Precedents; Walker, T.L.; Library of the Fine Arts, London

• 1847 Hints to Young Architects, Together with a Model Specification; Wightwick, George; New York & London

• 1859 Handbook of Specifications; Donaldson, Thomas; Lockwood & Co., London

• 1870 Pewtner’s Comprehensive Specifier; Pewtner, W.; Longmans, Green & Co., London

• 1896 Specifications; Bower, W. Frank; USA

• 1898 Specifications in Detail; Macey, Frank; E & FN Spon, London

• 1901 Building Specifications for the use of Architects, Surveyors, Builders, &c.; Leaning, John; B.T. Batsford, London

• 1913 The Elements of Specification Writing; Kirby, Richard Shelton, John Wiley & Sons, New York

• 1929 Contracts and Specifications; Nichols, Edward; American Technical Society

• 1949 The Case for the Streamlined Specification; Small, Ben John; The Construction Specifier, USA

• 1946 Building Specifications: Principles and Practice; Smith,
T Sumner; Hutchinson’s Scientific and Technical Publications

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