Michael Chambers

Cam Featherstonhaugh

Melody Stinson

Alexander Lungershausen

What Is the Future of Specifiers? This Panel Will Tackle the Issue

By Craig Webb

An executive at a construction supply company said recently his operation’s philosophy was “date the model, but marry the mission.” In other words, you should be willing to adjust how you do business based on how the times change, but whatever you do should always promote your core mission.

That idea was echoed recently in CONSTRUCT 365 interviews with two of the four panelists at a session entitled “The Future of Specifiers—The  Way Forward” that will take place from 9 to 10:15 a.m. CT on Wednesday, Oct. 7, the opening day of CONSTRUCT’s 2020 Virtual Show. Both Alexander Lungershausen and Melody Stinson said their companies are finding new ways to operate during the coronavirus pandemic, but their core work—and the core mission of specifiers—has remained unchanged. That, in turn, inspires the message they will deliver at the session: Communication is crucial.

“It’s really key to involve young people early,” says Alexander Lungershausen, associate principal at Hennebery Eddy Architects in Portland, OR. “It’s that we spend an extra 20% of our time and involvement to teach people, especially young people, what are in specs and how they are done. [We should be] exposing them to what specifiers do, so it become more integral to architecture.”

For Melody Stinson, a Portland, OR-based senior spec writer for Deltek, in some ways the pandemic hasn’t changed her work life. “I already was working at home” when COVID arrived, she says. “Even before all this, I would go to a trade show and 12 weeks after that I would get big binders.”

Stinson notes the industry already was moving toward virtual reality and remote communications, so what’s happening now “might speed up some people who were slow to adapt because there was a reluctance to bite the bullet.”

On the other hand, Lungershausen says one of the things he misses most about working remotely is that he’s not overhearing his coworkers talk.  “You don’t have people walk by and say ‘Hey, that looks cool,’’ he says. “You lose that serendipity.” And Stinson thinks the quality of communication changes when one is online. “I’m going to chime in only when it’s way more important for me to speak up,” she says.

Joining those two on the panel will be Michael Chambers, associate vice president at HGA Architects & Engineers, Sacramento, CA; and Cam Featherstonhaugh, architect and associate at TruexCullins Architecture + Interior Design, Burlington, VT.

Lungershausen says the stereotypical specifier has been the grumpy old man sitting in the corner who scares younger coworkers and doesn’t
get involved in the project until it’s way late in the process. “My goal was to create the rock-and-roll spec writer,” he says, one that’s younger, more
involved early on, more likely to be female and definitely a lot more social.

He envisions a world in which technology will help automate the writing of specifications to the point in which architectural designers will “almost inadvertently” create specs as they work. That will free to spec writer to explore new and problem-solving products, thus building institutional knowledge.

As for COVID’s impact, Lungershausen sees some changes coming, such as a larger number of automatic doors in buildings, while Stinson expects health-care and public space design will be in for lots of changes, particularly with air barriers. “Right now we base assembly on the basis of one person per 15 square feet,” she says. “We used to consider full occupancy as being really close together. Will that spread out any? For an auditorium, you might have a full occupancy based on number of chairs. During a pandemic, will we have to [provide the means to] change how many people can be there?”

That said, architects design buildings intended to last decades longer than a pandemic, so Lungershausen sees only limited impact from the coronavirus on design choices. He notes he was working on one project recently in which the planners thought about installing directional arrows to promote one-way traffic through a space. After thinking about it, the group concluded that such arrows won’t be needed in a couple of years, after the virus recedes, so it wasn’t vital to put them in now.

Two other recent trends could have more long-lasting implications. One of them involves attempts at Lungershausen’s firm to integrate a DEI Section—for diversity, equality, and inclusion—into specs. This is particularly important in Oregon, where the original constitution in 1859 barred non-whites from living there.

The other trend is the notion that architects should embrace the old concept of being “master builders”—people capable of planning, designing,  choosing products for, and then actually constructing a building. ‘I want architecture to come back together,” Lungershausen says. “It’s not just about the people sitting in the design towers. I want to meld with the contractors, the partners, the legal staff. I wish architecture would get over itself and find the way to create these master builders.”