No room for imagination. Building specifications in mid 19th century England
Amhoff, Tilo (2011) No room for imagination. Building specifications in mid 19th century England In: Further Reading Required. Building specifications, contracts and technical literature, 17 Feb 2011, The Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London. (Unpublished)
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According to the writers of mid 19th century practical guides for professional architectural practice, building specifications in England were intended to describe and define the characteristics of the materials to be employed and the nature of the work to be executed. This presentation provided a close reading of the model specifications from two guides published in 1841 – Alfred Bartholomew’s Specifications for Practical Architecture and Thomas Larkins Walker’s An Essay on Architectural Practice – both intended as guides for good practice. It was their ambition to provide specifications that would not allow the workmen “to exercise their imagination,” but at the same time, would ensure that they executed the work in “the most workmanlike manner,” - seemingly conflicting messages. The paper investigated the methods of the published building specifications, drawing our attention to some of their predicaments. On the one hand the specifications were expected to be clear and simple; on the other hand they needed to be comprehensive. While the first required the reduction of technical expressions the second required the inclusion or exclusion of every possible detail. It also searched for evidence of an adaptation of architectural practice to contracting in gross in the written specifications. The model specifications were therefore compared with earlier particulars from the 1784 contract for John Soane’s Tendering Hall. While it has been argued that architects used the new contracting system to construct their authority, or to establish a social status as a profession, I suggested that architects were making a virtue out of necessity.
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