In 2004 the specification document for Beirut’s famous the Platinum tower sat on my desk. I stared at it, bewildered by the terminology and source material, and read page after page intensively. The confusion and complete detachment from the severity of the paper isn’t, unfortunately, an uncommon occurrence in the Middle East; more often than not a specification document is seen as a last minute formality, with consultants and architects generally overlooking how integral the paper really is. Needless to say, by the time construction began the crucial nature of the document had left a lasting impression on me.
In the interest of maintaining a high degree of quality, durability and safety I have listed some common problems that I have encountered over the last 20 years working in this field in the Middle East and North Africa.
Poor coordination with development drawings:
More often than not, consultants and architectural firms copy their specifications from one project to another. Such an action is not only careless but can also lead to massive liability damages and hindrance of the project itself as time and money are wasted. Should the firms consider a master speculation template, quality and safety are assured.
Translation of the specification document:
Many companies attempt to directly translate their specification document from one language to another, however, a number of problems arise when doing this;
- Very few translators are familiar with the terminology of our industry, and as such accuracy can suffer greatly.
- Confusion occurs when Reference Standards cannot be translated.
- There is no universal format for specification, which creates difficulty for local and international contractors.
Local standards and safety codes:
While some governments in the Middle East and Africa abide by international standards, local codes and civil defence requirements can vary from country to country, and if not heeded can cause major delays for a project.
Design offices can seek suppliers assistance in writing the specification, however, it is within the supplier’s self-interest to write a proprietary specification that narrowly selects their own products or eliminates competition with other products that have better quality.
Unavailable or discontinued products:
Some products are not available at a local level, this can lead to variation that results in large costs and can sometimes result in lower quality, design and value.
Mixing international standards:
Doing this can create a discrepancy or contradiction in the standard requirements, making the specifications near impossible to meet.
The sourcing of different architectural materials:
The Middle East is an open and thriving market, this makes compliance with the specification document critical for the contractor and site engineer. It is near impossible to compare and/or meet different standards with different materials with each having their own requirement.
Using a bespoke format or customised numbering system, other than the conventional system on a local level, can be misleading for a project; Qatar, for example, uses their own system for numbering. Changing this can result in the production of a project manual that is confusing to follow, and cause distress for stakeholders.
Dimension and thickness:
The mention of these two parameters in a specification document is strictly not recommended for a number of reasons;
- The architect or specifier may not be aware of the latest update in the available products; construction materials are subject to an almost continuous upgrading.
- Drawings are constantly being modified and updated, and certain revisions may not have been foreseen at the time of printing the specification document. This makes the project manual a weaker document, placing the consultant under increasing liability and creates a dynamic where delays are imminent.
- Dimension and thickness should be based on engineering calculations, which take into consideration a myriad of different factors. Therefore it should be established between the contractor in coordination with the suppliers, and then presented to the consultant.