November 2017 Newsletter Print

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The Newsletter of The Minneapolis-St. Paul Chapter CSI       November 2017 

 Holiday Dinner and Toys for Tots Toy Drive
Good Food...Good Friends...Good Time...Good Cause!

317 On Rice Park
317 Washington Street
St. Paul, Minnesota 55102

Monday, December 11, 2017

5:30 pm - 8:00 pm 


Registration Deadline is: Wednesday, December 6




Toy drive begins Friday, November 10 and will conclude Friday, December 8. In the spirit of the holiday season, please bring a new, unwrapped toy, game or book to any of the 3 drop-off sites listed below. You may also bring your gift to our December 11 CSI Dinner being held at 317 on Rice Park.

All gifts will be presented to a local Marine and a KARE 11 representative on December 11 at our Holiday Dinner!  

Drop off points:

Kline-Johnson and Assoc.                                                          
2950 Metro Drive, Ste 306                          
Bloomington, MN      
MG McGrath                     
1387 Cope Ave E               
Maplewood, MN 

IntrinXec Management, Inc.
5353 Wayzata Blvd, Ste 350                  
St. Louis Park, MN   


5:30 - 6:00 pm / Registration and Social Hour
6:00 - 7:00 pm / Dinner and Chapter Business
7:00 - 8:00 pm / Presentation 

Thank you to our Partners!



January 8, 2018

Wood From the Hood

Literally, Wood from the Hood will show how they take diseased, fallen and downed trees from our Twin Cities neighborhoods, tag them with zip codes, and breathe new life into them with new uses.

Their sustainable initiatives use wood working skills and convert the salvaged trees to higher uses than what might otherwise end up as wood chips. We'll tour their shop and see the magic behind the beauAful and unusual results. Wood From the Hood has had their skills on display in LEED buildings in downtown Minneapolis.

The speakers will include Jon Buck from Wood from the Hood.

Dinner will be catered by Birchwood Cafe'. 



    • 4:00pm - 5:00pm Tour
    • 5:00pm - 6:00pm Social and Networking
    • 6:00pm - 7:00pm Dinner
    • 7:00pm - 8:00pm Presentation 


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New Member Spotlight

The Minneapolis-St. Paul Chapter of CSI, member anniversaries for the Fiscal Year 2016-2017:




Audrey Brucker, CSI




James Kellett, CSI, Member Emeritus, CCS, AIA




Joseph Edwards, PE, FCSI, Member Emeritus, CCS


William Fredregill, CSI, Member Emeritus


Diane Trout-Oertel, CSI, Member Emeritus, CCS


Brian Wass, CSI, CDT, AIA


Sheldon Wolfe, RA, FCSI, CCS, CCCA, CSC




John Akiba, Jr., CSI, CDT


Scot Benneweis, CSI


John Foell, CSI, CCS, AIA




Roy Crist, CSI, CDT


Craig Hess, CSI, CCS, AIA, LEED AP 


Pam Jergenson, CSI, CCS, CCCA


Spencer Kubat, CSI, CDT


Edward Ueda, CSI, CDT




Edward Heinen, CSI, CCS, LEED AP


Brian Pashina, PE, CSI


George Ramsay, CSI, CDT


James Theobald, CSI, CDT, LEED AP




Randy Bartz, CSI, CDT


Henry Grabowski, CSI, CDT, AIA, NCARB


Jeffrey Hoffman, CSI, CDT




Danny McMullen, CSI


Lou Podbelski, CSI, AIA


Nick Terry, CSI-EP




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Last Chapter Program






The October  2017 program:

Ryan Companies Millwright Office

October 9, 2017

All images contributed by Kermit Duncan





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Chapter Partnerships and Sponsorships



Chapter Partnerships

Platinum Partnerships
612-867-5173     651.704.0300 952-462-5359
 800.321.8194   763.546.3434    

763.544.0365 763.592.8640    
952-854-8723 612.349.9885    


Gold Partnerships



Silver Partnerships      



Would you like your company to come to mind first when a CSI member needs the services your company provides? 

Your company logo would be prominently displayed on all emails from the chapter (4 – 5 emails sent each month to 950 contacts each time), at all monthly programs (80 – 100 members), in the monthly Specifics (sent to 700+), on the pages of the CSI chapter website, at EVERY CSI event on each table and in the PowerPoint!

Your company could have quarter page ads or a featured article in the monthly Specifics (sent to 700+), or the opportunity to feature your company with a table top display at a monthly meeting.

If you answered yes, please send an email to and put “Need a Call” in the subject line and include your contact information.  You will be contacted by a CSI member.

Would you like to lend your company’s support to CSI events like the Annual Golf Outing or the Annual Awards Banquet?

If you answered yes, please send an email to and put “Sponsorship Call Needed” in the subject line and include your contact information.  You will be contacted by a CSI member.

Did you previously have a business listing or business card ad in the Resource Directory section of the printed CSI Chapter Directory? 

If you answered yes to the above, there are advertising options available for your company on the website and in the monthly Specifics.  Please send an email to and put “Advertising Call Needed” in the subject line and include your contact information. You will be contacted by a CSI member.

Your Partnership with the MSP Chapter at any level is your company’s path to visibility with decision makers in the design and construction industry. Your support also enables the continuation of high-caliber programs and events and networking among all parts of the building team.  Your participation is valued by all CSI members.



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Upcoming Events



Local Construction Associations

Compiled by Joel Meyer

(check respective websites for complete listings)







AMC Conference – St. Cloud

Concrete Paving Assoc. of Minnesota


AIA-MN Awards Celebration

AIA MN  MN Chapter – American Institute Of Architects


Forensic Engineering Panel Discussion

Minnesota Construction Assoc.


Chapter Meeting & Awards

IFMA – International Facility Mgmt.


What’s New in ABET engineering education?

MN Society of Professional  Engineers


Holiday Party & Scholarship Fundraiser

NAWIC- Nat’l Assoc. of Women  Constr.


Holiday Party & Toy Drive

CSI - MSP Construction Specifications Institute


MN Structural Engr’s Breakfast

American Council of Eng.Cos.  MN


LEED Green Assoc, Group Study

USGBC – United States Green Building


Women in Architecture Social

AIA MN  MN Chapter – American Institute Of Architects


Panel Discussion on Vertical Transportation

AGC  Associated General Contractors


YEA -  Bell Museum tour



MSP- Holiday Party

BOMA – Bldg Owners & Managers Association


Holiday Social

ASLA – American. Society of Landscape Architects


Holiday Royale sponsored by Cambria

ASID American Society of Interior Designers 


Board of Directors (see website)

Minnesota Concrete Council


Annual Concrete Conference 

Concrete & Masonry Contractors  Association


Board Appreciation (see website)

NAMC-UM National Association of Minority Contractors – Upper Midwest


STP  - Membership Meeting

BOMA – Bldg Owners & Managers


MN Design Team Holiday Party

AIA MN  MN Chapter – American Institute Of Architects


Events of interest Daily

U of MN – College of Design & Arch 



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Chapter Membership Committee News


Click HERE for the new Membership Enrollment Form

Ask the Membership Commitee Chair:

Gary Patrick at 763-546-3434 or

Or contact the CSI-MSP Chapter Administrator

Vicky Olson at 952-564-3044 or

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Board of Directors September 2017 Meeting

The CSI Board of Directors met in Providence, RI just prior to CONSTRUCT 2017. The meeting 's one and hald day agenda was very full with lots of positive and exciting information being exchanged. Here are some of the highlights that YOU the member should be aware of and feel good about that have happened over the last year and are planned for the the future of YOUR CSI.

1. Institute has been focused for the past 24 months on stabilizing and simplifying business processes and position CSI for growth. All of this work has gone well and is either completed or on a path to completion.

  • New governance approach to enable Board focus on results to be achieve.
  • Improve member service (expanded hours, 8 a.m. to 8pm M-F.
  • A new and much improved Instiute website.
  • New online CSI communities (social network).
  • NSF grant program has gone from 2 schools to 12 and now 30 (CDT for college classroom).
  • Preserve and improve CSI certifications.
  • New version of the PDPG will be available in January 2018; and will be the source document for the Spring 2018 exam cycle.
  • Reached an agreement for partial sale of BSD Speclink.
  • Resuscitate CSI's education program.


2. Goal for the next year is on transitioning our focus from stabilizing and simplifying processes to growth and sustainability.

  • Renewed outreach:
    • CDT as a renewable certification. More information to come late information and early spring.
    • New tools and educational opportunities for members.
    • Expanded communities available to chapters and other groups.
    • Focused and updated brand experience; more compelling reasons to join CSI story, better on boarding of members, supported by better systems.

  • Continued improvements to infrastructure:
    • Better data management.
    • New membership, volunteer, and management tools.

  • The Board authorized additional and significant investment to improve the member experience and the overall value of membership.


3. Board approved investments enabling Institute CEO Mark Dorsey to proceed with the following:

  • Upgrades to:
    • Information Technology
    • Marketing, promotions, and CSI graphic presentation
    • Improved financial reporting
    • Upgrades to data quality.


  • Aesthetic consolidation of the following (currently, these all have a different “look”):
    • The Specifier


  • Expansion and rollout of expanded communities and microsites.
  • Expansion and development of education programming.
  • Format licensing.
  • Chapter and Region affiliation project:
    • Focus on product/service delivery/consistency and support.


4. The Board continues to review the CEO' performance through use of monitoring reports which track progress toward the Ends.  Progress is being made constantly (a good example is website up-time and response time to customer requests), and the mood among staff is good and appears to be constantly improving.  However, much work remains to be done.  Mark has set achievable but high targets for staff and CEO performance, and the staff has, in general, responded admirably.

5. The Board had a lengthy generative discussion about the nature and function of Regions and Chapters and how the Institute can support and understand the needs of the components. The following is a very brief summary of that discussion:

  • Regions vary across the country, and some appear to be functioning exceptionally well. Others are struggling with mission or volunteer capacity or both.  Generally, the Board was committed to Regions and their place in CSI, but there is some recognition that the Chapter/Region/Institute is a geographic relationship, and the structure was designed before the internet age.  Some re-thinking, re-purposing, and renovation of this tiered structure will almost certainly be needed long term.
  • Chapters vary greatly in size, activity, and capacity.  For example, 25% of chapters account for 6% of CSI membership. There is wide recognition among Board members that Chapters create tremendous value for the organization and are the face of the organization at the local level.  Some chapters are in trouble either financially or lack a critical mass of leadership or volunteer capacity or a combination of factors.  There is recognition that CSI at the Institute level has a role to play in identification of struggling chapters, and also in support of those chapters, perhaps through their Region.


Jerry A. Putnam, FCSI, CCS, RA

Institute Vice-President

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Read the North Central Region Newsletter!

see the link below

North Central Region Newsletter


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Specific Thoughts


Senseless Security

How often have you seen a standard confidentiality disclaimer at the end of an email? An email I recently received ended with this:

"This email together with any attachment(s) is proprietary and confidential, intended for only the recipient(s) named above and contains information that is privileged. You are hereby notified that the dissemination, distribution or copying of this email or its contents including attachments is strictly prohibited. If you have received this email in error, or are not the named recipient(s), you are hereby notified that any review, dissemination, distribution or copying of this communication is prohibited by the sender and doing so constitutes a violation of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, 18 U.S.C. section 2510-2521. Although precautions have been taken to make sure no viruses are present in this email, [company name] cannot accept responsibility for any loss or damage that may arise from the use of this email or attachment(s)."

Even a simpler version, which appeared in an email I received while writing this, is a problem.

"The information contained in this message is privileged and intended only for the recipients named. If the reader is not a representative of the intended recipient, any review, dissemination or copying of this message of the information it contains is prohibited. If you have received this message in error, please immediately notify the sender, and delete the original message and attachments."

I'm sure some legal department came up with these disclaimers and insisted they be included in every email, even though compliance with them interferes with marketing and use of their products. In both of the above examples, the email had information the senders expected me to pass on to the other specifiers as well as to our interior design group.

That's often the case; the senders don't say it, but they will be pleased if the information is passed on to others. Yet the disclaimer specifically prohibits that; in fact, it essentially says I can't even talk about it. Not only that, but it states that by doing anything other than deleting the email, I am breaking a law.

This is bad enough when the email does contain product information (though if it's on the company website, what's the point of the disclaimer?), but it becomes ludicrous when it follows casual email.

Joe: What are you doing for lunch today? Do you think Bob will want to join us?

"This message and its contents are confidential, and are intended only for the recipient. Do not copy or send it to others."

Or a joke. Occasionally, a friend sends collections of funny photos and videos (safe for work variety), clever sayings, and other amusing things found online. All are followed by his agency's standard disclaimer.

I can't help but wonder what the legal impact is of a disclaimer that is appended to every email regardless of content. I found several opinions online, most of which agree that in most cases, the disclaimer is meaningless, the exceptions being for email from attorneys or others whose messages are legally considered privileged communication.

Email Confidentiality Disclaimers: Annoying but Are They Legally Binding? "Dropping a standard confidentiality disclaimer at the bottom of every company email doesn’t unilaterally force on a recipient any duty of confidentiality. In other words, this disclaimer is of no legal effect."

Spare us the e-mail yada-yada "Lawyers and experts on internet policy say no court case has ever turned on the presence or absence of such an automatic e-mail footer in America, the most litigious of rich countries." 

Blind copying

On a related matter, many manufacturers' representatives send email using blind copy lists. Such information would be useful to the other specifiers, and to various other staff as well. Again, I know the senders would like me to pass their email on, but without knowing whom they sent it to, I am reluctant to forward it, as I know I will send to people who already have the email.

I understand the value of blind copying, and I encourage its use. If a manufacturer's representative wants to send something to a hundred specifiers, none of them will want to see the lengthy "to" list. It would be better for those on the receiving end if the rep were to send to people in a single company with the recipients visible.

The ultimate disclaimer

Scanning through my own email, I found several disclaimers that exceeded 100 words, and one of 238 words. Which led me to wonder, "What is the longest disclaimer?" I've seen fake disclaimers of several hundred words, and many years ago, inspired by a particularly verbose disclaimer, I assembled one that is about 1,400 words. 

But for real email disclaimers written by companies, there are some doozies, including one that ran to more than 1,000 words. ( What's the longest one you've seen?


Email Confidentiality Disclaimers: Annoying but Are They Legally Binding?

Spare us the e-mail yada-yada

The information contained in this article is intended only for anyone who happens to read it. If received in error, failure to forward it to everyone on your contact list is prohibited. After reading, please delete all files, reformat all drives, and immediately take your computer to the nearest LEED-certified incineration plant for disposal according to local ordinances. Upon completion, go directly to the local office of MiB (Men in Black) for neuralyzer treatment.

© 2017, Sheldon Wolfe, RA, FCSI, CCS, CCCA, CSC

Agree? Disagree? Leave your comments at





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Why Preservation Matters

by Max Page

Written to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1966 National Historic Preservation Act, Why Preservation Matters argues that, for the historic preservation movement to grow, it must move beyond the preservation and reuse of architecturally important buildings, ("beautiful objects"), to include recognition of more culturally significant sites in our history including what he characterizes as "sites of conscience," places of historical suffering and disgrace.  In making his case the author, Max Page, describes the history of the preservation movement in the US beginning with the failure in 1963 to save New York's Penn Station, then on to various examples of successful "gentrification" projects, and to a few recent examples where cultural sites have been saved in spite of the ugly history they commemorate.

Historic preservation has always created tension between a building owner's strong personal property rights, vested in US law, and those who have no financial interest in a property but want to see it saved for the public benefit, in some cases contrary to the owner's desire to modify or tear down a building. Up to the 1960s many influential pro-development people thought tearing down old buildings was a good thing, "progress" it was called.  Robert Moses in New York City is probably the most famous example with his various urban renewal projects, in some cases bulldozing entire neighborhoods.  His nemesis was Jane Jacobs, author of the classic 1961, "The Death and Life of Great American Cities."  However, it was the unsuccessful, celebrity led campaign to save Penn Station that brought the issue to national attention and kick started the preservation movement.  The result was the creation of the National Register of Historic Places that lists places worthy of saving without guaranteeing their preservation.  It's left to local preservation ordinances to prevent a building from demolition.

Soon, after the tax advantages built into the preservation ordinances were recognized, owners and developers began to see preservation in a positive way. With an economic incentive factored into a project's cost analysis, preservation, and specifically adaptive reuse began to take hold resulting in the obvious benefit of maintaining a building's architectural heritage, and in many cases improving it and the surrounding neighborhood.  The resulting "gentrification" as it has frequently been labeled has been criticized for driving out existing residents and businesses, (usually low income and low rent), so the process is not seen by everyone in a positive way.  But it's hard to argue against gentrification of a neighborhood when you consider all the economic and social benefits that result in what would otherwise be areas of continuing physical deterioration and social decline.  While the author does acknowledge these benefits, he makes a strong case for these projects to include measures to mitigate the social costs of gentrification by providing such things as subsidized housing and other benefits for those people and businesses displaced.  Maybe it's best to say this is a complicated issue.

More recently the sustainable or "green" aspects of preservation have been recognized and, in some cases, are the primary justification for keeping an existing building in service regardless of its architectural significance. This benefit of renovation would be enhanced if the current LEED scoring system gave more recognition to the embodied energy and cultural value inherent in existing buildings.  The author also proposes that architectural schools focus more attention on renovation in their design classes.  Currently, renovation/preservation is formally taught only in the context of the conservation of architecturally significant buildings, mainly at the graduate school level.  Students ought to think of existing buildings as a starting point for design rather than always beginning with a new building on a green-field site.

Preservation of buildings shouldn't always be just about architectural beauty. This view is critical in considering the preservation and reuse of many buildings from the 1960s, some of which are already over 50 years old, and many of which are not considered beautiful, even by architects.  Should they be preserved if important historical events took place in them or they otherwise have important social value?  Maybe they have "beauty of purpose" that should be celebrated?  The author doesn't provide answers to these questions because there aren't any easy answers.  On the other hand he is emphatic that historically important non-building sites such as the Japanese internment camp at Manzanar in California must be preserved and celebrated even though Manzanar, and others sites like it, document dark periods and ugly events in our history.

Why Preservation Matters was published in 2016 by Yale University Press.  It has 207 pages and very few photographs.


Los Angeles, CA

Oct. 20, 2017


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Sentences With Good Bones


When evaluating old buildings for their renovation potential, architects sometimes say the buildings “have good bones.” By this, they mean that while much of the building’s interior, and even some of its exterior, needs to be removed and replaced, the building’s structure is sound and reusable. Architects value sound structures in their buildings.

It should therefore follow that architects would value structure in their writing as well, since the structure of a proposal, a letter, or even a paragraph can either support a writer’s ideas or collapse under its weight. This is true even at the scale of sentences. So let’s look at three ways to strengthen the structures of sentences and give them good bones.

Active- vs. Passive-Voice Sentence Structure

Most of us learned about active and passive voices in school. The difference is simple: With the active voice, someone is doing something, while with the passive voice, something is being done by someone.

Active: Architects design buildings.

Passive: Buildings are designed by architects.

In most cases, using the active voice will give you better sentences; they will be shorter, simpler, and more direct. Active-voice sentences are more likely to engage readers. But from what I’ve observed, in editing my own drafts and those by others, the passive voice seems to be our default sentence structure [1]. For whatever reason, passive-voice sentences are what naturally come out of us. But when editing our drafts, we can look for the passive-voice sentences and, in most cases, revise them to the active voice.

Despite what I’ve just said, the active voice is not always the right choice. For example, it sometimes doesn’t matter who is doing the action. Consider this active-voice sentence:

The concrete subcontractor’s workers poured the concrete slab at 10:00 and the concrete inspector confirmed that the concrete complied with all the specified requirements.

For most purposes, it doesn’t matter who poured the concrete or who inspected it. All the truly useful information is in this passive-voice sentence:

The concrete slab was poured at 10:00 and met all specified requirements. [2]

As a rule of thumb, the active voice is preferred except (1) when the doer of the action is less important than the receiver of the action; or (2) when, for dramatic or other reasons, you don’t want to reveal who the doer is until the sentence’s end; or (3) when using the active voice forces you to write something stupid (more on this a little later). [3]

Sticky Modifiers

Modifiers can be many things: adjectives (red ball), adverbs (brightly colored ball), nouns (beach ball), participles (bouncing ball), compound words (leather-clad ball), verb phrases (ball I like), and prepositional phrases (ball of string). But one thing all modifiers have in common is that they are extremely sticky, and will stick to whatever words are closest to them. Take, for example, Groucho Marx’s line from Animal Crackers:

“One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas, I don’t know.”

The joke works [4] because the modifier (in my pajamas) is attaching itself to the closest word (elephant), rather than to what it should be modifying (I, that is, Groucho). Here’s another example, from an online news article:

“While making a documentary, a squid attacked a diver.”

I couldn’t have been the only reader who laughed while picturing a squid making a documentary, and attacking a diver while making it. The simplest way to fix the sentence is to make it passive voice, which the writer may have been avoiding [5]. In this case, using the passive voice enhances clarity:

While making a documentary, a diver was attacked by a squid.

Even professional writers (and their editors) sometimes let misplaced modifiers slip by. Al Franken, in his latest book [6], talks about the need to compromise when voting for laws, and says, “Does the stuff in this bill I like outweigh the stuff I don't like?” As written, the sentence doesn’t make sense. The modifier I like is attaching itself to this bill instead of to the stuff in this bill. Thus, it compares a bill that Franken likes, and everything in it, with everything Franken doesn’t like (which is probably quite a lot). The solution is putting I like next to what it should be modifying:

Does the stuff I like in this bill outweigh the stuff I don't like in it?

By making sure our modifiers stick to the right words, we’ll help our readers understand what we’re saying. But perhaps more important, we will keep them from snickering at our misplaced modifiers. We want our readers to laugh at our jokes, not at our mistakes.

Parallel Construction

When writing a series of words or phrases, those words or phrases should match each other in grammatical type and structure. Writing experts call this parallel construction. For example, consider this sentence:

We specified brick for the exterior because it’s durable, traditional, and it can be supplied from local sources.

Since the sentence describes three qualities of brick, we should be able to break it down into three sentences, one for each quality, and all starting with the shared elements of the sentence (We specified brick for the exterior because it’s …). Let’s see what happens:

  • We specified brick for the exterior because it’s durable. (That makes sense.)

  • We specified brick for the exterior because it’s traditional. (That also makes sense.)

  • We specified brick for the exterior because it’s it can be supplied from local sources. (Oops.)

The problem with the original sentence is that it’s presenting a series of unequal grammatical things, in this case two adjectives and a phrase. Now, you may be saying, who cares? The information is there and there’s no ambiguity. Sure, but there’s also elegance and good style to consider. The sentence is likely to stop at least some readers in their tracks and make them think the writer made a stylistic mistake. Here are three easy ways of fixing the problem:

  • We specified brick because it’s durable, traditional, and locally sourced.

  • We specified brick because it’s durable and traditional, and can be supplied from local sources.

  • We specified brick because it’s durable, it’s traditional, and it can be supplied from local sources.

Each of these sentences uses parallel construction, but in different ways. The first is simplest, but any of them is fine. In other words, they all have good bones. I admit that parallel construction is a bit subtle and can be easily be overlooked, even by good professional writers. For example, I recently read this sentence by Neil DeGrasse Tyson:

“Shortly before, during, and after the strong and electroweak forces parted company, the universe was a seething soup of quarks, leptons, and their antimatter siblings, along with bosons, the particles that enable their interactions.” [7]

I’m fairly sure that Tyson meant “Shortly before, during, and shortly after …” since after by itself includes now, and as near as I can tell, the universe is no longer a seething soup of anything [8]. But since shortly during makes no sense, the concept of parallel construction prevents readers from mentally jumping over during and attaching shortly to after. I doubt that Tyson wanted his readers (and it can’t be just me) to pause to consider why the sentence doesn’t work and how it could be improved.

Structure Matters

Having good bones matters for animals, it matters for buildings, and it matters for writing. But when writing our drafts, we are almost certain to include nonparallel constructions, modifiers sticking to the wrong things, and too many passive-voice sentences. Fortunately, we don’t submit, send, or publish our draft proposals, letters, emails, or blog posts. Drafts are meant to be edited, and when we take off our creative writing hats and put on our critical editing hats, we can give our writing the clarity and elegance that our readers deserve.

Bill Schmalz, CSI, CCCA, FAIA

Contributor to LACSI Newsletter

Follow the author on Twitter @bill_schmwil.


[1] In fact, when I first wrote the previous sentence, it was in the passive voice: Readers are more likely to be engaged by active-voice sentences.

[2] This is an unusual case where the passive-voice sentence is shorter than the active-voice one, thanks to a lot of unneeded information being removed from it.

[3] As another rule of thumb, if fewer than 20% of your sentences are passive voice, your overall writing will come across as being active voice. For the record, 13% of this article’s sentences are passive voice. To learn how to easily determine your passive-voice percentage, see my article “In Praise of Plain English” (

[4] Don’t you hate having people explain why jokes work? Me too.

[5] This is an example of where using the active voice leads to writing something stupid.

[6] The book, Al Franken: Giant of the Senate, is a good, and often funny, insider account of how politics works.

[7] Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. A readable and up-to-date look at astrophysics.

[8] Other than in small parts of the universe, such as soup.


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Effective Architectural Sales Calls



Michael D. Chambers FAIA FCSI CCS

This article originally appeared in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Chapter CSI newsletter “specifics” column entitled “A View from the Back of the Bus” in the late 1990s.

In my rather perverse perspective, I often wonder why so many product representatives feel ineffective or intimidated calling on architects. Granted, some architects can be quite a treat. The terms argumentative, aloof, know-it-all, unapproachable, abstract, and “expletive deleted”, are often mentioned.  Have you ever stopped to wonder why?

Without trying to defend architects, consider that often an architect’s attitude towards product reps is the result of being mislead or over-sold on the applicability, features, and benefits of construction products. Look at a typical reaction to telephone marketers or used car salespersons, what is it that is so offensive?  I would suggest two aspects.  First, the unrelenting hard-sell without having any idea of your needs or interests; and second, the underlying attitude that the product offered is the only possible choice and how could an architect be so stupid not to immediately understand?

Unfortunately, product representatives must overcome the backwash of less enlightened sales types that have gone before them. However, it is relatively easy to overcome this type of resistance by using a solution-oriented approach rather than a typical product-oriented approach.  Architects are primarily concerned with finding the most appropriate range of solutions not the best or greatest product.

In a survey done by McGraw-Hill Sweets, architects were asked what they wanted from product representatives. The top 2 results were ‘recommended uses & application of products (92%)’ and ‘guide specifications (88%)’.  The last choice was ‘manufacturer’s history, experience, overall capacities & range of products (40%)’.  This means that architects want to know how to appropriately apply and integrate products into their designs, not be confused by competitive features and benefits.  The need for guide specifications clearly indicates the need write clear, competitive, and enforceable specifications.  Lastly, horror of all horrors, the least thing architects want to know is about your company.  (to be continued)

                                                                       * * * * *

Another critical element for effective architectural sales calls is the ability to listen. Practically every time a rep calls on me, the first words are about company history, the president’s ancestors, and how many products have been installed in Outer Slabovia last week.  Next, we hear how many years he or she has been in the business, how big their territory is, on and on.  Next comes a guided tour through the product binder, page by page by never ending page.  In all this time, usually 30 minutes, never once has the rep asked about projects, how products are selected, are the office master specifications up-to-date, and the like.  The best advice I can offer for effective architectural sales calls is to SHUT-UP AND LISTEN!!!!.  You will be amazed by the knowledge and insights you can discover about what the architect knows and wants to know about your product.  There is a definite reason why the Creator gifted us with 2 ears and one mouth.

You will notice that discussing products is not included, especially features and benefits. Use and application, design solutions, enforceable specifications, industry procedures and standards are far more effective that talking about products, and eventually will enable you to discuss products without forcing the issue.

At the end of the day consider this. I once called upon an architect that had forgotten my appointment and said he could only give me 5 minutes.  After 45 minutes, I commented that he was rather busy and asked what it would take to get in his specification.  He expressed great admiration for my firm, my products and indicated no problem getting specified.  Here’s the rub, never once, in that 45 minutes, did I mentioned my firm or my products.  I asked open-ended questions, provided broad-based industry information, talked about key competitive issues, and discussed effective specifications, and how to minimize substitutions.  I never mentioned I was an architect and specifier with too many years of experience.

Effective architectural sales calls are very quiet, listen, and provide industry standard knowledge and resources. (to be continued)

                                                                       * * * * *

Here is the outline that I used when making architectural sales calls. These are basic issues and touch points that I found highly effective when dealing with project architects, curmudgeonly specifiers, and firm principals.

I.     Strategic placement and opening remarks

A. Never sit across the table if possible, try to sit next to the architect.

B. Ask opened ended questions about the individual’s role in the firm, responsibilities, project types, involvement in AIA and CSI, etc. Look for points of connection and mutual interest.

II.    State of Industry

A. Briefly outline the current state of your industry, competitive issues, new industry directions, key competitors, and local issues of interest.

B. In other words, immediately establish yourself as an industry player and expert. Even if you’re not, chances are you know more about your industry that the architect does. If not, shut up and learn something.

III.   Product Use and Application

A. Ask open-ended questions about how your type or class of products is used in the firm’s projects.

B. Listen closely for what the architect knows and doesn’t know. This is the most critical juncture in the conversation. Here is where you can learn about hot buttons, problems, and issues related to your product industry.

C. Ask how products are selected and specified. Most architectural specifications are written and revised around mistakes and problems in the field. Ask questions that try to get to the real knowledge level of the architect.

IV.   Guide Specifications

A. Go through your guide specification pointing out key issues and problem areas where you have found most specifications to be lacking, confused, or in conflict.

B. Deal with these issues from an industry point-of-view not from your product sales view. It is critical that you establish yourself as an industry resource and expert.

C. Discuss the primary competitors and how the architect’s specification should reflect the competitive issues. Be strategic here, but remember, a sole source specification is still a red flag for being substituted no matter how much the architect loves your product.

D. Also, despite what your sales manager says, yours is not the only or the best product in the universe. Don’t criticize the competition; just discuss them in a professional and even-handed way.

E. Ask to see and offer to review office master specifications. Indicate that you will review for industry standard information and will update yours and the competitors’ product numbers.

F. Do not rely on your guide specification to get specified. Do everything possible to get the office master for review.

V.   Closing

A. If you are not in the current specification ask what you must do to be included. Generally, if you have been effective, the architect will say no problem and you will be added. However.....

B. Follow up and make sure that you have been added to the spec. That is why getting a specification to review is so critical, you can add your product to the master and it will probably get updated,

C. Offer to present continuing education programs.

                                                            * * * * *

Michael is a specifier and product rep who designs, produces, and presents continuing education programs, writes guide specifications, and provides sales training for the construction product industry. He is active nationally in AIA, CSI, DHI, and SCIP. Michael is Construction Specifications Manager for SmithGroupJJR, San Francisco and principal of MCA Specifications. He can be reached at 707-391-0131 or at


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Educational Opportunities




Master Specifiers Retreat

February 1-4, 2018 Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort, Florida

The CSI Master Specifiers Retreat is a hosted-buyer, three-day event for specifiers and architects who make product recommendations to meet with top product reps to learn and network. CSI’s Master Specifier Retreat (MSR) is an exclusive, by invitation-only event. Qualifying specifiers and architects, who are selected, attend free of charge. Learn more about this event.   Specifiers and product selection influencers who are selected for this event will attend free of charge.

If you are interested in being considered, please complete the application by October 1, 2018.


CSI on-Demand Webinars are education sessions that provide convenient, quality learning at an affordable price – you will be able to see materials, hear an instructor and earn continuing education credit. Courses qualify for Professional Development Hours (PDHs) and AIA Continuing Education Hours (CEHs). 

CSI's Education Learning Levels

Each session, webinar, or similar event offered through CSI's programming meets a specific level of education:

Fundamental (100 Level): “Learn & Grasp”
Attendees require little to no previous knowledge of the topic area. Participants will learn fundamental facts, terms, and basic principles and understand their meaning. These sessions inform using the “what, why, and how” approach.

Intermediate (200 Level): “Apply & Organize”
Attendees require basic knowledge and understanding of the topic area. Participants will be able to integrate knowledge into the context of practice by organizing, comparing, interpreting, and relating main ideas. These sessions are identified by key words including “execute, perform, and apply.”

Advanced (300 Level): “Develop & Evaluate”
Attendees require a working knowledge and considerable experience in the topic area. Participants will be able to analyze problems and evaluate new situations by combining acquired knowledge and techniques to generate solutions. These sessions are identified by key words including “develop, evaluate, and implement.”

The cost per webinar is $55 for CSI members, or $75 for non-members -- join CSI now and save when you register for an on-demand webinar! 

See the webinars available on demand!


In addition to CSI Webinars, CSI has additional educational opportunities for members of the construction industry.

For more information go to:

The Construction Specifications Institute is a Registered Provider of American Institute of Architects Continuing Education System and United States Green Building Council Education Provider Network


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Chapter Leadership



Andy Garner, CSI, CDT 

 Immediate Past President

George Ramsay, CSI, CCS, CCCA


Cynthia Long, CSI, CDT 

 Vice President

Kasey Howard, CSI

 Vice President

Dave Rasmussen, CSI

 Vice President

Jeremy Nordby, CSI

 Vice President

Sandy McWilliams, CSI, LEED AP


James Bergevin, CSI


Mark McPherson, CSI, CDT


Awards Committee

Tohnya Adams, CSI-EP, Co-Chair

Rick Nichols, CSI, Co-Chair

Certification Committee

Jerrilyn O'Brien, CSI, CDT, EIT, Co-Chair

 Communications Committee

Keith Pashina, PE, CSI, Chair 


To be determined

 Membership Committee

Gary C. Patrick, CSI, AIA, RRC, Co-Chair

Susan Lee, CSI, Co-Chair

Programs Committee

Brien DuRouche, CSI, Co-Chair

Larry Lorbiecki, CSI-EP, AIA, Co-Chair

Emerging Professionals/Student Affairs

Hannah Fleischaker, CSI, Co-Chair

Adrienne Rulseh, CSI, Co-Chair

Annual Golf Outing

Ryan Hallesy, CSI, Chair

Chapter Administrator

 Vicky Olson, CSI, IntrinXec

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