Writing work: changing practices of architectural specification

Katie Lloyd Thomas, Tilo Amhoff

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceeding with ISSN or ISBNChapter


John Soane recorded the work that he and his employees carried out on a daily basis. Most of the entries described the work of designing and preparing drawings, but other administrative tasks are also recorded: measuring work, making out bills, settling accounts, as well as “writing descriptions,” meaning the preparation of architectural specifications. Today, the contractual and administrative tasks performed by architects are a formal part of their education and architectural bookshops are full of manuals and guides to best practice. Architectural history and theory has focused almost exclusively on the work of drawing and design, but tracing the development of those tasks reveals a series of transformations that increasingly place the production of written documents at the center of the architect’s work. This chapter focuses on one aspect of this “writing work,” the production of the architectural specification. These textual descriptions have a longer and more primary relationship to building than drawings do because of their key role in determining and fixing expenditure. The architect's writing work also raises questions around human labor in architectural production. For almost two centuries the processes of work, the labor of builders and architects, were written into specifications, whereas today’s open specifications represent buildings primarily as “ideal forms”, obscuring social relations and the value of human labor involved in producing them. In todays context building as labor process and the social relations between the parties involved are as veiled for researchers reading the documents, as for the architects who write the architectural specifications.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Architect as Worker: Immaterial Labor, the Creative Class, and the Politics of Design
EditorsPeggy Deamer
Place of PublicationLondon
Number of pages23
ISBN (Print)9781472570505
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jul 2015


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