J Foster Architects is a London-based practice founded by Jeremy Foster that predominantly delivers small residential projects such as conversions, extensions and renovations. The practice has used the NBS Building software for many years but has recently migrated to NBS Chorus Small Works and has now used this on a live project: a residential development in Highbury, London.

NBS Chorus is a cloud-based specification platform. It can be accessed through any web browser or handheld device. The ‘Small Works’ version of Chorus contains template specifications, and technical guidance from NBS that has been researched and authored to be tailored to the needs of the small practice.

Jeremy is enjoying the benefits of cloud specification, including producing specifications more efficiently, working on a Mac and being able to start a spec in the office and finish it off at home.

Dr Stephen Hamil, NBS Innovation Director, caught up with Jeremy to find out more about his NBS Chorus experience so far. Watch this conversation in the video below.

Editing the specification

Figure 1 below shows Chorus’ specification overview within the web browser on Jeremy’s Mac. The specification contains 33 sections, covering the scope of building work on the project: from demolition through to some of the domestic requirements for plumbing and electrical fittings. Accompanying the specification is a set of prelims based on the appropriate RIBA building contract.

In addition to the specification sections, it can also be seen that notes have been added, that a number of publications have already been made, and that a history of this is recorded as an audit trail.

Figure 1 - The specification overview showing sections, notes and the publication history

The way I work, is that there is a desktop PC in the studio and a Mac at home and I have been able to work pretty fluidly and seamlessly between the two. This is a major difference from how I used to work with NBS Building which was PC based and work could only be carried out in the studio space.

Figure 2 shows how the NBS template sections can be edited to make the content of the specification directly relevant to the project. It can be seen that the clauses not relevant to the project have been parked. Parked clauses will not be printed in the issued specification. The clauses that are relevant have been modified to meet the project requirements. In this case, the ‘Roof windows’ clause has been completed to specify a particular roof window product from the manufacturer Velux.

To the right of the specification editor, the NBS guidance, manufacturer products and user note panels can be seen. These views synchronize with the content within the editor panel, so that the information that the specifier needs is always at hand.

In this example, the ‘Roof windows’ clause has had its prefix and suffix amended; this allows the specifier to add information for cross-referencing in other project documentation such as drawings, schedules and pricing spreadsheets.

Figure 2 – Editing the specification to make it project-specific

Publishing the specification

The specification content in NBS Chorus is stored in a database so that the functionality can provide efficiencies and a more coordinated information set. At the point in time where the information (or a cut of the information) needs to be issued, it is possible to publish this to PDF.

An example publication from Jeremy’s project is shown below in Figure 3. This is a draft of the tender specification for proofreading. Each publication will be tracked and recorded in the Chorus software so that it is possible to return to view a particular issue and note any revisions.

Figure 3 – A published PDF that can be issued to the contractor

Cross references to the specifications

For a large project, with a wider project team, the pricing of the specification and drawings is typically managed by a cost consultant who prepares a bill of quantities. However, on smaller projects, this task is often the job of the architect, and a pricing document must be prepared.

Figure 4 shows that Jeremy has used the functionality to generate a spec check report in Microsoft Excel format from Chorus. He has then manipulated this into a pricing document, highlighting the clauses that the contractor must itemise.

Ensuring that this happens prior to construction starting provides transparency when assessing the work for interim progress payments, and is also a basis for negotiation on any architect instructions that modify the scope of the work during the building phase.

Figure 4 – Jeremy has used the functionality to generate a spec check report in Microsoft Excel format from Chorus. He has then manipulated this into a pricing document, highlighting the clauses that the contractor must itemise (Note: itemized clauses currently need manually added to the relevant section in Excel).

The drawings and any schedules also need to be fully coordinated with the specification. Figures 5 and 6 below show how this was achieved on the project using NBS technology. Figure 5 shows that the NBS plug-in for Autodesk Revit was used to ensure that all objects in the 3D model are associated with their equivalent specification clause in Chorus. This allows for annotations to be made directly using these shared NBS parameters; it is also possible to view and edit the specification from inside the Revit tool used for design.

Figure 6 shows an example of one of the fully coordinated drawings. These include references to NBS, including the suffix cross reference and also the classification code.

Figure 5 – Ensuring that all objects in the Autodesk Revit model are associated with specification clauses

Finally, Jeremy left us with his thoughts on small practices and the use of digital technology.

Many in the industry may think that the adoption of digital technology is something that large practices lead on. However, small practices are more agile and are required to undertake many roles on a project – they will often be project lead, lead designer and specifier, while managing costs and administering the contract. Therefore, it may be the case that small practices have more of a need to use the latest technology to better coordinate all of these activities.

In Revit all of the tags link to clauses. Using the shared parameters we annotate and see the clause suffix as the first thing and then also the NBS classification reference. The same codes are used in the schedules and the pricing document.

Figure 6 – Publishing drawings from Revit that are fully coordinated with the NBS specification

‘Working fluidly on PC and Mac and we get an increase in productivity so it’s win-win really. NBS Chorus is a major addition to any practice, especially small practice’s, suite of software.

For small practices, although the jobs are smaller, there is a lot more risk as you are doing a lot more yourself. So what I learned from when I worked at a big practice is the true power and risk reduction through management of a project through a specification. For a small practice environment it’s even more crucial. It is your safety net, it allows you to deliver projects to a level of quality whilst protecting yourself. Making sure everything is included and priced.

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