The commercial and institutional building industry comprises many disciplines, from architects and contractors to product manufacturers and facility managers.

Clear and accurate communication between these disciplines is absolutely essential for a project to be successful. For more than fifty years, the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) has provided the standards and formats that help the industry's professionals work together more effectively. In recent years, CSI has updated its flagship products, and this year is introducing some new tools.

A group of government architects and specifiers joined together to form CSI in 1948 to address the post-World War II building boom. During that period, the federal government commissioned numerous projects. Unfortunately, the specifications used varied as much as the buildings themselves. To improve the process, CSI's founders created standard formats and procedures for communicating project information.

CSI is an individual, professional membership organization that represents the entire building team. As an independent, national association, CSI draws members from all parts of the country involved in every segment of a facility's lifecycle.

With more than 15,000 members committed to exchanging knowledge and developing uniform standards and formats, CSI works to improve construction documents and the project delivery process, because better technical documents reduce errors and save money.

CSI members meet monthly at 146 chapters around the nation. The multidisciplinary organization offers members the opportunity to network with professionals from other disciplines and to share best practices and lessons learned with colleagues. CSI meetings and conferences also provide a place to learn about new project opportunities and help members stay current on industry trends.

CSI also provides education opportunities for all sectors, including programs that address technical topics important to contractors.

  • In March, an expanded webinar series focused on leadership training and business growth topics. The interactive telephone/Internet sessions, open to members and non-members, featured expert instructors who addressed business and communications subjects of interest to executives and professionals.
  • The CSI Construction Academies offer an education opportunity for construction contract administrators. The multi-day Contract Administration Academy is designed to help intermediate and advanced professionals improve their skills and capabilities.
  • The online audiocast series "How Not to Screw Up" discusses construction mistakes and lessons learned each week. A related forum on the CSI website gives users the opportunity to share their experiences and ask questions.
  • CSI offers recognized certification programs for construction professionals including the Certified Construction Contract Administrator (CCCA) designation. CCCA provides builders the opportunity to demonstrate proven knowledge and skill in construction process and contract administration.


Refining Standards and Formats

CSI provides standards and formats so that every sector of the design and construction industry can communicate project information to each other. Flagship documents include MasterFormat and the Project Resource Manual-CSI Manual of Practice.

Since 1963, MasterFormat has served as a standard system for organizing textual information in project manuals, using a uniform list of numbers and subject titles to classify work results and construction practices. In the United States and Canada, nearly three-quarters of commercial and institutional projects use MasterFormat.

The latest version, MasterFormat 2004 Edition, includes the most significant updates to the standard since its introduction. CSI and Construction Specifications Canada (CSC) updated and expanded MasterFormat to meet the industry's changing needs in recent years, as building systems became more complex and materials and processes advanced. All disciplines in the industry were consulted to ensure that it addressed the entire lifecycle of a project.

CSI and CSC expanded MasterFormat's structure from sixteen divisions to fifty divisions, reserving some of them for future expansion. MasterFormat 2004 Edition now covers areas of engineering-heavy civil and process-not addressed in its predecessor, MasterFormat 95.

MasterFormat 2004 Edition is organized into five new subgroups:

  • General Requirements
  • Facility Construction
  • Facility Services
  • Site and Infrastructure
  • Process Equipment


This new structure provides a clearer format for organizing information-helping users classify specifications in the designated divisions.

CSI also expanded the numbering system from five digits to six digits, which allows user to classify many more subjects.

The federal government and design firms are leading the change to MasterFormat 2004 Edition. Now many high-profile private-sector owners also are making the switch, forcing contractors to transition or be unprepared to bid and construct projects whose contracts require the updated format.

The transition tools and resources. In addition, users can ask CSI experts questions about the new format on a website forum hosted on

In 2004, CSI expanded and updated its other flagship document-the Project Resource Manual-CSI Manual of Practice. This product focuses on how to organize, prepare and interpret construction documents to improve the project delivery and facility management processes. The latest edition addresses the range of needs over a project's entire lifecycle, emphasizing a team model approach.

CSI and CSC are also updating the Uniform Classification System, or UniFormat, to reflect changes in MasterFormat and the Project Resource Manual, as well as other industry initiatives and trends, such as Building Information Modeling (BIM) and the OmniClass Construction Classification System. The updates represent the first revisions to UniFormat since its 1998 introduction, providing a standard for organizing pre-construction information based on major components common to most buildings.

Updating Drawings Standards

In January, CSI, along with partners the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS), introduced the latest version of the United States National CAD Standard (NCS).

Launched in 1999, NCS provides a uniform system for graphical information that appears on construction drawings. Maintaining a standard system is important because many disciplines in the industry use the drawings sets throughout a facility's lifecycle, from design and construction to operation and maintenance.

NCS Version 4.0 is the first update to the standard since 2005. It is a voluntary system which has been adopted by some 5,000 workplaces, including many federal agencies. The latest version offers consistent sheet order, sheet organization and placement of information across all drawing sets. These and other changes help reduce the number of errors, producing fewer change orders and delays.

Using NCS also frees organizations from needing to create and maintain their own standards in-house, saving staff time and company resources.

Introducing New Products

In addition to refining current products, CSI is also developing and introducing new resources. In February, CSI and CSC introduced the first publication that combines SectionFormat and PageFormat.  Combining the two recommended formatting standards into one publication provides a consistent approach to organizing and presenting specification sections in project manuals.

CSI is also testing a first-of-its-kind database for sustainable building products and manufacturers, assisted by McGraw-Hill Construction and BuildingGreen, Inc. GreenFormat: A Reporting Guide for Sustainable Criteria of Products-provides standard format for manufacturers to report the sustainable attributes and performance of their products. The online database will help architects, specifiers, contractors and others quickly and easily learn the "green" characteristics of a product, particularly in quantitative terms, such as its recognized certifications from government programs and industry groups. To learn when GreenFormat will be released, sign up for the notification list at

Walter T. Marlowe P.E., CSI, CAE, is the executive director and CEO of the Construction Specifications Institute. Marlowe can be reached by phone at 703.706.4760.  For more information on CSI visit 

Construction Business Owner, May 2008