Posts Tagged ‘Member benefits’

As I sit here next to the ocean I can’t help but think about the fact that the ocean is never the same; the water is constantly moving, but therein lies it’s constancy.  The same can be said of generations, mentors, and the intentional transfer of knowledge.

My first professional mentor was my grandfather who practiced architecture (and ran several related businesses) in Charlottesville from the late 1920s until the late 1970s.  It was he who inspired me at the age of six to pursue the profession that has occupied me to this day.  As one might expect, he introduced me to floor plans and taught me two point perspective drawing.  Fast forward about eight years and he introduced me to the various dimension lumber sizes on the family lumber yard where I had my first job.  On another occasion, he came out to the warehouse with a steel manual and introduced the beam diagrams and formulas in those pre-calculator days.

A few years later, I was introduced more thoroughly to structural design by my future father-in-law who taught structures in the University of Virginia School of Architecture.  This allowed me to bypass introductory statics and strength of materials at Virginia Tech.  During those years in Blacksburg, there were a few professors that I considered mentors.

I was later introduced to specification writing by Thomas R. Wyant, Jr, AIA, CSI who had me writing specs about a year out of school.  He also unknowingly inspired me to join CSI, which brings me to the real subject of this column.  Mentorship involves the intentional transfer of knowledge which is arguably the most important function of CSI.

it is through attendance at CSI events and participation in the CSI Certification Program that knowledge of construction processes and documentation is transferred to the next generation of construction professionals who would otherwise miss the opportunity to learn.

CSI is the one place where architects, engineers, constructors, suppliers, manufacturers reps, and other diverse construction professionals represented in its membership can sit down at the table and talk openly and in a non-confrontational manner about their experiences.  We can’t help but learn from one another.  At some point, down the road, there will be a situation in our careers that will prompt a memory of a conversation that took place at a CSI gathering and perhaps also a phone call that will borrow from the experiences of our colleagues within the organization.

I can’t speak often enough about how my membership has more than paid for itself over the last thirty-one years.  If you’re a construction professional and not a CSI member, I would strongly recommend that you join.  If you are a CSI member, by all means bring a young professional to your next chapter member.  You will not regret it.


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Our culture is obsessed with the future.  Marketers have used slogans like “The future is now!” and Hollywood produced several “Back to the Future” movies starting in the mid 1980’s.  There is a pervasive addiction to having the most current technology, even if it doesn’t always perform its function as well as that which it replaced.

In contrast, my father used to tell us to remember the past so as not to repeat mistakes and live for today.

I would like to propose an alternative:  Live for today, but embrace the future.  I do so by making myself available to mentor young people.  After all, the future belongs to you.

For each of you that would follow me professionally, I would strongly encourage you to embrace and enhance the future of your career.  You can do so by joining CSI (no, not the TV show, but the Construction Specifications Institute).  It is there that you can network and gain much knowledge that the schools and universities don’t seem to have the time to share.

There is only so much that you can accomplish sitting in front of a computer.  You can insert all the content in the world into a social media page, but doing so or viewing such a page will never convey as much information as a face to face conversation.  We learn much from the things others say and do, including vocal inflection and body language.  You get only words from a sterile message conveyed via the internet.  More to the point, you cannot put a hug or a warm embrace onto a computer no matter how many emoticons you insert.

To further enhance your future in the design and construction industry, you need to participate in CSI’s Certification Program.  Sitting for and passing the CDT exam will afford you and demonstrate to others that you have a level of knowledge of construction documentation that graduates from architecture and engineering schools often lack.  I am aware of several recent graduates who immediately found jobs following graduation because of the fact that they held the CDT certificate.

So, live for today and embrace the future by becoming a member of CSI and sitting for the CDT.  There are a large number of us who would welcome you with open arms and a smile.  More to the point, your future career may depend on it.

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Last Wednesday evening, I was delighted to hear a one hour concert by “Mr. Jefferson’s ‘Bones”, a wonderful trombone ensemble.  Most of us know the sound of a solo trombone.  The sound can be rich or thin, loud or soft, strident or mellow.  Imagine taking the rich sound of a solo trombone and combine it with three others and imagine the four part harmony, particularly if the highest part is played up in a typically trumpet register!  The effect was wonderful, particularly the piccolo part of Stars and Stripes Forever played on trombone.

 Now imagine the sound of a professional symphony orchestra.  Each of the players can produce a rich solo sound, but combined, the acoustic output is so much more!  By utilizing each individual player’s talents, the somposer and conductor can do so much!

 So it is with the construction team.  Good buildings don’t just happen.  It starts with an owner’s vision.  Mix in the talents of an architect and several engineers and other designers.  Now add in a great contractor with his accompanying group of specialty subcontractors.  Mix in a plethora of good material suppliers and product reps.  Let’s not forget the local inspectors and planning departments.  The result is so much more than any one individual could produce on his/her own.

 CSI is the one place where the entire construction team can get together in a collegial setting and discuss items of importance to each of us andd the entire team.  This week is Construct 2012 in Phoenix.  I have been in town less than twenty-four hours and have already encountered friends and colleagues who are manufacturer’s representatives, specialty product reps, contractors, association professionals, specifiers, and yes, other architects.  Every one of us is committed to excellence in the built environment.  It’s what we do at CSI

 Now extend the concept to life in general.  If all individuals were alike, we would be a lot poorer (we might as well be a rock on a desolate planet).  Thankfully, we all have differing personalities, different talents, and differing opinions.  This makes our lives far richer.  So I salute my friends everywhere.  I rejoice in you for who you are individually.

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I have written on multiple occasions about my CSI membership paying for itself through contacts I’ve made through my membership activities.  Phone calls to other members have helped me sort out issues that come up occasionally in my practice.

 Two days ago, as I entered the office, the phone rang.  It was a member of another chapter who was trying to sort out an issue that had arisen in her work.  I spent forty-one minutes on the phone thinking the situation through with her.  While I’m not sure I gave her the answer to her problem, we were at least able to get her headed in the direction of a workable strategy with which to approach her supervisor.

 Later that morning I received an e-mail from another member who was looking to hire a product rep in our area and asking for names.  In this instance, I knew immediately who to refer to her.  A member of a sister chapter and CCPR was laid off by another company a few months back.  I responded within minutes with contact information for my unemployed friend.

 All that said, if these three individuals were not members of CSI, they would not have thought to contact me.  Since I’ve gone to the CSI network well many times in the past, I felt good about being able to be on the receiving end of those calls and able to render assistance.  Giving back to the organization and its members is somehow even more satisfying than simply receiving this most important benefit of membership.

 So the next time you need help with a construction related problem, call a member of CSI.  In addition to the fact that you’ll probably receive the correct answer, I imagine that the person you call will be rewarded as much as you in the giving back.

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What follows is an updated version of an article I first published in December 2002 edition of the Central Virginia CSI Parameter.  As is typical of these old articles I am posting, it is as pertinent today as it was eight years ago.



Specification writers often use reference standards in construction specifications.  Their use or misuse can make the difference between a specification that is enforceable and one that is rife with conflicts and ambiguities.

 Consensus standards are nothing new.  ASTM International (formerly American Society for Testing and Materials) which develops and publishes consensus standards for materials, products, systems, and services has been around since 1898, and ANSI (American National Standards Institute) was established in 1918.  These are just two of the organizations that produce consensus standards used in the construction industry.  Others that produce frequently used standards are AAMA, ACI, AISC, AITC, NFPA to name a few.  This is, of course, not an exhaustive list by any means.

Reference standards are frequently cited in construction specifications as well as building codes.  Their inclusion in these types of documents by reference makes them part and parcel of the code or specification.  Chapter 35 of the International Building Code is a listing of the standards that are referenced in the text of the code including the dates of publication of the various standards.  Inclusion of the publication date is extremely important, as these standards are periodically reviewed and updated.  The building code, however, incorporates a specific version of a given reference standard.  Compliance with a later (or earlier) version of the same standard doesn’t necessarily assure compliance with the code.

The same is true of specification writing.  When incorporating a standard by reference it is important for the specification writer to be specific as to which edition of the standard is to be used.  In the event that a more recent version of a particular standard is referenced, it is incumbent on the specification writer to ensure that the referenced document is not in conflict with pertinent provisions of the building code.

A common mistake made by specifiers is to restate provisions of a standard referenced in the same specification such as specifying curing procedures for concrete when a reference to the appropriate ACI standard is sufficient.  Another common error is to reference two conflicting standards such that compliance with one creates a conflict with of the provisions of another.  Phrases such as “latest edition” or “current edition” should be avoided as well for similar reasons.  Specifying blind should also be avoided.

These are but a few reasons among many for specifiers to have a thorough working knowledge of the standards they reference in their specifications.  This becomes a monumental task, as the library required is monumental in size and it requires constant updating.  While this article isn’t intended as a promotion of the use of a particular guide specification such as Masterspec, Spectext, or SpecLink, the producers of these and similar documents are better able to stay on top of the latest developments in consensus standards and use of these or similar products is a reasonable way to manage risk.  Use of a good guide specification alone, however is not a substitute for knowledge on the part of the specifier.

Good library maintenance, continuing education, and CSI certification on the part of the specifier can help in the preparation of a quality specification which is clear, correct, complete, and concise.  Participation in monthly CSI chapter meetings is a start in the right direction.  The best way to gain information on this and other topics is to become an active member of CSI.  Your career may depend on it!

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What follows is an article I penned several years ago for the Parameter, which is the newsletter of the Central Virginia Chapter of  The Construction Specifications Institute.  Other than dates and places which had to be updated, it is as pertinent today as it was in March 2004.


 I recently had the privilege of signing the certificate of substantial completion for a new custom residence.  The contractor had executed a near flawless product and the owners were ecstatic with the result.  Instead of choosing a contractor by competitive bidding, the contractor was selected on the basis of his reputation for honesty and ability to deliver a high quality product for a reasonable price.

 This particular contractor has been making clients of this author happy for the last ten years or so.  He and I had accidentally discovered one another indirectly as a result of networking with other local construction professionals. 

 Our first common project had been competitively bid, and the contractor selected strictly on the basis of price.  The pleasant surprise was the discovery during the construction process that there are in fact people out there who still take a great deal of pride in their work.  He has negotiated contracts with several of my clients since then, and has never failed to exhibit the highest level of professionalism.

 This is a story of where networking over the years has paid off.  Being able to confidently negotiate construction contracts is not unique to this particular contractor, as the story applies to several of the contractors my firm works with regularly.  I’ve said repeatedly that CSI provides multiple opportunities for networking and career advancement.  It is here that we get to know one another and get some idea of what our colleagues are capable.  In addition, the monthly membership meetings provide educational opportunities simply for the price of our dues and the cost of one dinner each month.  Otherwise put, the local CSI chapter affords us multiple opportunities to improve the way we conduct our businesses, both formally and informally.

 By getting together on a regular basis, we, the membership, are able to learn from one another.  The chapter continually puts together quality educational programs, which are often entertaining, and always useful.

 CSI, however, is more than just the chapters.  The Middle Atlantic Region meets twice each year.  In the spring, the Leadership Orientation Seminar is an opportunity to brush up on how best to run the chapters.  Additionally, it provides information for the development of new leaders.  Typically, there are representatives of the Institute, both elected and staff, to fill us in on what is going on at the national level.

 Each October (or September in colder locales), one of the seventeen chapters in the Middle Atlantic Region hosts the annual region conference.  The region conferences provide us with the opportunity for networking and professional education.  The conferences are always a lot of fun, and I always come away having learned something of value.

 Beyond the region level, CSI has its signature Institute wide event each year that can provide sufficient continuing education to maintain professional certifications.  The upcoming Construct and the CSI Convention will be in Chicago next fall.  The convention features one of the largest commercial construction product shows in the country.  Additionally, there are more than seventy educational sessions available on site.

 So coming full circle in my ramblings, in multiple ways, CSI can enable each of us to take pride in a job well done.

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CSI Pays

The following is a newsletter article I penned in October 2006.  I wrote the article about midday.  Before the day was out, as it turned out, I spoke with four non-local CSI contacts and my membership more than paid for itself.  The article is just as pertinent today as it was the day I wrote it.


My membership paid for itself twice today.

 I received a call this morning from a project manager friend who had a question about a detail on a project he is working on.  He frequently calls me with such questions.  Specifically, he wanted to know how to put together a rainscreen siding system.  I eventually gave him the name and e-mail address of a product rep who is a member of the Atlanta Chapter who can shed some light on the appropriateness (or lack thereof) of his product for the application at hand.

 Later on, while discussing a different project, I was asked about a detail that a contractor is proposing to use which will again be critical to keeping rain out of the building.  Immediately, I sent an e-mail to another friend, this time a member of the New Hampshire Chapter.  This individual is an expert in his field and has presented at the CSI Show on this particular topic.

 I expect to hear from both within twenty-four hours.  Additionally, before the morning was out, I forwarded contact information for a member on the West Coast to another member in the Pittsburgh area who needed to contact her on region business.

 The lesson here is this:  membership in CSI pays.  Additionally, I would not know these folks but for my CSI activities beyond the chapter level.  All of these people are individuals I’ve met by attending the convention and serving on committees.  So, it follows that service to CSI pays.  I’ve lost track of the number of folks I’ve gotten to know through this organization.  I will say that because of my CSI membership, I now have friends and colleagues all over the United States that I can call or e-mail with questions and can expect a straight answer or a referrral to someone who can provide it.

 Since this sort of networking starts at our local chapter meetings, I would strongly encourage you to attend and check us out.

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