My initial motivation to become an architect is really a mystery, even unto myself. The only things I can recall that could have led to this momentous decision are that I liked to observe buildings under construction and that I liked drafting (back when it was on a drafting board). From that, I must have put two and two together: buildings + drafting = architect. I’m sure engineers are saying “Hey, buildings plus drafting could mean engineering!” Well, let me put it this way, it was the closest thing to engineering without having to endure all those advanced math classes.
With that decision made, I completed an important step to satisfy my deep down desire to fly airplanes – fighter airplanes, to be exact. You see, a technical degree (of which architecture is considered to be by the Air Force) was necessary at that time to become an Air Force pilot. But, that all changed when, during my physical exam for ROTC, I was medically disqualified from a flying career due to less-than-perfect eyesight and a history of allergies. So, by default, architecture became my primary focus with military service falling to a close secondary.
I survived architecture school with solid but unspectacular results. I muddled through graphics and design studio, keeping my head above water; however, I did rather well in my technical courses (this should have given me some indication as to my future career path). But, since the Air Force wasn’t looking for award-winning designers, my design abilities were of no significant concern to me.
Over the years, I moved between several different positions, like a steel ball making its way down a pachinko (Japanese pinball) machine to its final destination; in my case, that of a construction specifier. Since assuming that role, I’ve often wondered what makes a specifier a specifier? What personality traits are common amongst us masters of the written construction language? Well, I think I found the answer…
Using myself and other specifiers as prime samples of our unique subculture, I analyzed the personality of the typical “specifier” and developed the following list of traits:
- Organized – Specifiers use MasterFormat: the ultimate in construction document organization. We arrange everything based on this system: specifications (obviously), computer files, catalogs, etc. We have huge discussions—some even heated—about where one item should be located within the system.
- Meticulous – Specifiers are very particular about the how the English language is used, especially in the context of their specifications. Short of being lawyers, we use English in a way to achieve our desires without deleterious loopholes (Do you like that?) that could affect us, our clients, or owners financially. We’ve even developed a guide, the Construction Specifications Practice Guide, which establishes words that should and should not be used. Our specification sections follow other standards such as PageFormat and SectionFormat; and, we decompensate when consultants of other disciplines don’t follow them.
- Attention Seeking – Specifiers have a deep yearning to be accepted as equals within the design team, and even within our respective firms, if not an independent consultant. We’ve established ourselves as the technical experts within the profession; and without us problems would continually arise during design and construction. There’s even a certification program, the Certified Construction Specifier (CCS), to further our longing for recognition. We have pointed discussions on promotions and salaries, and, for the independent consultants, fees. We make statements from a broad perspective such as “Educate architects of the value we bring to their practice,” to direct ones, borrowed from TV commercials, such as “Pay now or pay more later” (Fram Oil Filters).
- Obstinate – Specifiers, through our meticulousness, demand adherence by others to the same standards we hold sacred. To do anything else is contrary to the holy four C’s of clear, concise, correct, and complete. We preach “Say it once and in the right place” until we’re blue in the face, but raise our hands and walk away in frustration when a project proceeds contrary to our advice. Then we repeat the sermon on our next project, hoping to “convert” the next group of sinners.
Well, that’s it; specifiers boiled down to four traits: organized, meticulous, attention seeking, and obstinate. The next step: find the psychological term that best fits these traits. What would the professionals call this? Dr. Freud?…Dr. Phil?…Dr. Ruth? (Well, maybe not her).
Plugging these traits into my internet search engine, I continually came up with “anal-retentive personality,” or more currently referred to as “obsessive-compulsive disorder,” or OCD. I recalled back in the last half the 1980s, that the late Phil Hartman played multiple characters on Saturday Night Live of which one was called the “Anal-Retentive Carpenter,” who took wood scraps, double-bagged them, then stapled the bags closed before throwing them out. When I first saw this skit, I had no clue what being “anal-retentive” was. My wife, the doctor, explained the Freudian term which stems from potty training of 1 to 2 year-olds. How early use of the john leads to personality quirks is beyond me—maybe that’s why I’m a specifier.
I tried to find some popular examples of anal-retentive behavior. Felix Unger of The Odd Couple is a classic example of extreme anal-retentive behavior, as well as Frasier Crane and his on-show brother, Niles, and popular sleuths Adrian Monk and Hercule Poirot. But, specifiers, although not as extreme as those examples above, still exhibit some classic characteristics of anal retentive personalities.
In my research, I’ve found that anal-retentives have most, if not all, the following traits:
- They have a strong conscience and tend to follow traditional roles.
- They set high standards and perform well at work.
- They are dependable, responsible and are dutiful employees.
- They are meticulous, precise and tend to be obsessive and rigid about rules and regulations.
- They are almost always on time and their work is neat and orderly.
- They are conservative in their views and have a strong controlling sense of duty.
- They may be rather introspective and introverted if they are worried about what others will think or how they might be regarded.
- They may have lost some of their ability to assert their own wishes and views.
- They may have to “achieve” to gain the attention and affection of others to make them feel worthy.
If you’re a specifier, does this sound familiar? So, as a specifier, if someone calls you “anal,” you won’t clobber them because you confused the term with the other derogatory name for the same bodily region.
To paraphrase a line from Peanuts’ Lucy Van Pelt, “The doctor is out…5 cents, please.”