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Spoilt for choice

A new online specification tool enables architects to find out exactly who used what on a wide range of leading buildings

It is often very difficult and timeconsuming to obtain suitable provenances to satisfy yourself of the suitability of subcontractors and suppliers that you want to use on a project. There is no clear legal basis for vouchsafing the performance of a product from one project to the next, but making structured enquiries does go some way to showing that you have considered the options.

What if you used the same supplier as the most influential architects on some of the most prestigious schemes? Would that make you feel better? Have you ever wondered what material was used to make the pods in Alsop's Peckham Library? Have you ever wanted to know what type of glazing system was used on the Eden Project? Would you like to see the trades list commonly used by Bennetts Associates?

The Architects' Journal's new online facility, AJ Specification, at www. ajspecification. com, is a good start and is developing fast. Already it is a useful place to begin your enquiries, even if you just want to know who did what on famous schemes.

Clickability Get past the obligatory registration form, log on to the straightforward home page and start browsing. Three search methods, which tend to be mutually reinforcing, are available on the opening page, together with an abstract representation of the same for those of a more visual bent. You can click on 'Inspiring Buildings', 'Acclaimed Architects' or 'Proven Products', or browse through a range of options under the headings 'Buildings', 'Architects', 'Building Types', 'Suppliers', 'Locations' and 'Type of Product'. If you know where you want to be, type in the architect or building name and go straight there.

Clicking on 'Acclaimed Architects', for example, takes you to the 'A' page of the A-Z (actually A-W) list of a range of architects' key schemes. All data is taken from the long history of AJ building studies and this is an ongoing digital archiving process which may be extended to AJ's sister magazines. The complete building study text, together with the costings, consultants' reports and full range of published photographs, are readily accessible in a clear and concise 'Picture Gallery' hyperlink. Click on any of the picture gallery images to open up the large-scale format photographs or drawings. Pictures are about 5 x 5cm at 300 dpi (dots per inch), which is five times the usual resolution of thumbnails that you find on many websites.

Visitors are provided with clickable access to the client's, design team's and contractors' contact details, and, with specific reference to the architects, cross-linkage with their involvement in other projects across the site.

The right-hand side lists 'All Suppliers'. Click on any of these to get address and contact details and, where available, links to their websites. At this stage, there is little real product information but this is a developmental issue, which is rapidly being added to as suppliers see the worth of the tool.

All's well Clicking the ironmongery supplier 'Allgood', for example, brings up a list of clients - always good to be reassured that leading names are using a product - and the buildings on which they are specified. Contact details are carried as a matter of course, including direct Internet access to their sites.

Additional buttons give you the option of ordering a brochure online, or even logging your request for a return telephone call. Personally, I have never seen the worth of this type of facility, as most people prefer the ease and immediacy of the telephone, although that is not so for those who work outside normal office hours.

The 'Notepad' facility is not yet available, although it is coming soon.

This is a great idea for personalising data: adding your own empirical data to the page as a mnemonic, or treating it as a working area on which to compile a range of information. This can be e-mailed to other functions in your own office. A further extension to this is being explored. If a material does not live up to expectations - or if it surpasses them - make a note linked to the product and paste it up to inform your colleagues on the office intranet.

This site is a useful advance on traditional tools, such as the Barbour Index, in that, even at its current level of data input, it is a source of finding contractors and some suppliers who can be identified with a laudable architectural scheme, or with leading architects. The photographic representation of the material is presented in a way that is less pretentious than most product suppliers' catalogues - showing the products in situ on a prestigious scheme - but it still requires a phone call to find out what you really want to know: what range of products the supplier has, how much it costs and how you detail it.

It is a novel, design-led and fun way of finding out specification data while at the same time brushing up your knowledge of architecture. The beauty of it is that while browsing for a product you may just get an additional spark of inspiration by default.

WHAT YOU WILL FIND ON AJ SPECIFICATION

200 plus inspiring buildings, with 10 added each week.

75 plus different building types.

Buildings from 38 English and Welsh counties, six Scottish regions and four Northern Irish counties.

130 plus acclaimed architects.

2,000 plus suppliers of proven products.

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