Design is in the details. All it takes is one conversation with Sharon Clark, AIA, Baskervill’s in-house specifications expert, to open your eyes to a whole new world of architecture – one hidden in those details. The type of building material, the size of the furniture and even the kind of electrical outlets selected. All of these things, big and small, are deliberately chosen and contribute to the overall design and effectiveness of the space. While it’s usually the contractors working with the materials directly, the specifications writer is the one making all of those tough decisions.
Specifications are primarily written to describe to the various contractors the different types of materials they will be working with, and often provide instructions on how to use these materials. These descriptions cover a lot of ground—interior flooring types, every kind of paint being used, the literal nuts and bolts of a project and more. The result is a hefty document, often consisting of hundreds (and hundreds!) of pages that outline every last component of the project.
Aside from the physical materials, specifications provide legal protection for the owner, contractor, architect and any other person involved in the project. After budgets are finalized and the specifications are in place, these specs become part of the legal contract to set the construction process up for success. So when you think about it, specifications experts set the foundation and direction for later phases of many projects. Some consider all this responsibility daunting, but as you’re about to read, Sharon takes extreme pride in her knowledge of projects and owning the nitty-gritty details.
If your clients were to describe what you do, what would they say?
To be honest, many clients probably don’t realize that the specifications process even exists. And yet, there’s an entire system that supports the identification and documentation of specifications before construction can begin that only those with understanding of architecture and construction industries really have visibility to.
In a field as broad as architecture, why specifications?
Let’s start back when I was a mere architectural intern. I joined a team that designed and drew curtain wall systems for major towers and airports. My first two projects involved detailing and designing systems to cover the unique shapes of two massive towers, both more than 30 stories. The final pieces were to negotiate and then create detailed specifications to achieve a quality product that was true to the initial design. So my team began writing specs for the exterior envelope on all of these projects. As an intern, I was immediately enthralled with the intricacies and detail of the work. And the fact that we were impacting the skylines of major cities, something that everyone would see, was a great feeling.
I loved being the person who set the stage for the entire structure, the literal blueprints for project expectations and construction values for the building, often before they were even presented to the clients. Many architects are big picture thinkers and want to avoid spec writing, so there was this void that needed to be filled and I stepped in to fill it.
What do you love most about what you do?
I really enjoy introducing architects to new building products they haven’t heard of that stimulate new designs and concepts. Part of my job is to be a sort of library of information for designers and architects to refer to when looking for new and best practices materials to use.
There is also something very rewarding about putting together buildings that require very specific materials. It excites me to get to follow that process so closely. I’ve worked on so many unique projects that I get to follow from start to finish, which reinforces my love for the job. The projects that stick out the most are the ones that were extremely challenging, yet the most rewarding in the end. A few that stand out are the Wizarding World of Harry Potter for Universal Studios Theme Parks and an annex project for Walt Disney World’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa from my time at Atkins before joining Baskervill.
If you hadn’t focused your career on architecture and specifications what else can you see yourself doing?
I love drawing and creating. That’s why I got into architecture. I still draw and paint in my free time, and I enjoy in participating in design charrettes whenever there’s an opportunity. Maybe one day soon I’ll get a chance to design another curtain wall or create unique building towers again.