National Treasure: The Myth of CSI

CSI CONSTRUCT 2019 - Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center Blog  CONSTRUCT 2019

NATIONAL HARBOR, MD, October 13, 2019 – Alright, let’s get this post started by clearing up one thing – CSI AIN’T JUST A GROUP OF SPEC WRITERS.  Although I’ve been a Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) member for over 10 years, first a student member, then an emerging professional member, and now a fully-blossomed, full-fledged, grown-up CSI member, I’m embarrassed to admit that I never really knew who exactly the organization was for.  I mean, I knew the group wasn’t entirely spec writers – I’m a member, and I don’t even know my Division 4 from my Division 44! (if you understand that joke, I’m sorry.)  But at its core, I mean…come on.  CSI is, after all, the Construction Specifications Institute – it’s right there in the name!!  And these are the guys (referring to CSI historically, the general term ‘guys’ is certainly applicable) behind MasterFormat®, “the industry standard for specifications, estimates and product data.”  Alas, specifications have been a large part of their story since the organization was founded in 1948.  Fast forward to today, however, and the structure of the Institute looks much different.

CSI CONSTRUCT 2019 - National Harbor, Maryland

National Harbor, Maryland – site of the 2019 CONSTRUCT Show.

My CSI Background – or – A Tale of Two (And a Half) Cities

I first learned about CSI while attending Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in Green Bay, Wisconsin in 2006. My instructor, Wendy, spent class one day telling us about all the various organizations in and around the Architecture/Engineering/Construction (AEC) industry, which ended up being a very transformative day for me. Thanks, Wendy! While I never joined the organization during my time in tech school, it piqued my interest since I grew up with a construction-based, technical background. I mean, I was in technical school, for cripes sakes!

When I moved to Minneapolis in 2008 for my undergraduate studies, I joined the CSI Minneapolis-St. Paul Chapter almost immediately, frequently attending their meetings and events. An introvert, I didn’t speak up a whole lot or join in conversations, but I showed up to their events often, and before too long some members took notice, and approached me about getting more involved.

I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but it didn’t take long before I was a leading member of the chapter’s Student Membership Committee. Others in the group, and CSI members as a whole, welcomed me with open arms not only at the meetings, but at other events, as well. When I asked that they offer more discounted tickets to these events in an effort to boost the attendance of young professionals, they welcomed and implemented the idea without hesitation. When a trade show was coming up, I mentioned my lack of skill at talking with product reps, not knowing what to say or what questions to ask. The chapter helped me develop a “What Do I Ask Product Reps?!?” pocket guide to share with my classmates who found themselves in a similar position.  CSI was a group that listened to what I had to say, and welcomed my ideas with enthusiasm and support. It was lovely.

As I became more involved, I went on to create a student chapter of CSI at the University of Minnesota, attempting to break the misconception that CSI’s technical perception was incompatible with the U of M’s design-oriented architecture program. I was honored to receive both a Genuinely Enthusiastic Member (GEM) award from the chapter, as well as a chapter Certificate of Appreciation for my efforts in bridging the gap between the University and CSI. Unfortunately, despite my best efforts to ensure the student chapter remained after I graduated, it dissolved as soon as I left Minnesota to attend grad school in Oregon.

Let me reiterate: CSI is an amazing, welcoming organization, open to all who have a hand in any aspect of the project delivery of a building. IT AIN’T JUST FOR SPEC WRITERS!!

CSI Portland

After moving to Oregon seven years ago, the decision to continue being a CSI member by transferring my membership to Portland was a no-brainer (Sorry, Minneapolis!! It’s not you, it’s me.) Because I was so focused in my studies during grad school, and because I’ve volunteered with several local design organizations in some capacity, my participation in Portland CSI has been relatively limited, though I’ve managed to partner with the chapter on several events. I’ve helped the chapter organize annual holiday parties, scavenger hunts, and trivia nights. I’ve promoted their events like crazy through Design Pup. And I’ve built a relationship with the Portland CSI crew over time, finding them to be one of the most supportive, genuine friend groups I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. They’re a real family, it’s a beautiful thing to see and be a part of.

A few months ago, one of my Minneapolis CSI friends reached out to me, asking if I would be attending CSI’s annual national conference, CONSTRUCT, this October. A few fall days in our Nation’s Capital, surrounded by the CSI crew, friends from around the country, and I would get to be there as Portland’s own Cherise Lakeside received Fellowship in the organization (one of only three in the nation to receive the honor this year!)? It was a no-brainer!! I immediately signed up, and for the first time in my decade-plus as a CSI member, I attended their annual conference, CONSTRUCT AEC Education and Expo, held October 9-11 in National Harbor, Maryland.

CSI CONSTRUCT 2019 - Product Expo

We need to talk about your flair…

Hey John, What’s CONSTRUCT?

To be sure, CONSTRUCT is certainly more than “just a conference.” According to CSI:

“CONSTRUCT is an AEC educational program and exhibition that has the goal of bringing together the different disciplines within the construction industry to help improve the future of the built environment.

Breaking down the barriers between the different players within the construction process allows for a more collaborative work environment. CONSTRUCT is the place to share the latest in standards and best practices, industry trends, and emerging technologies.”

On the first day of CONSTRUCT, I was honored to attend Emerging Professionals Day – an entire morning dedicated to helping young professionals, new members, or first-timers of CONSTRUCT get up to speed with what to expect during our time at the conference. The morning began with our very dear friend, Cherise Lakeside, FCSI, politely sharing that CSI is an amazing, welcoming organization, open to all who have a hand in any aspect of the project delivery of a building. IT AIN’T JUST FOR SPEC WRITERS!!

She continued by noting that the conference has attendees from all across the country, brought together with the common goal of helping emerging professionals, by way of specifically-designed aspects of the conference, including:

  • Education – Workshops, seminars, and the product expo.
  • Networking – Continually happening throughout the conference.
  • Social Connection – An opening night party, a closing night party, and built-in gaps in the conference schedule to foster impromptu get-togethers and more intimate social gatherings.

Simply put, CONSTRUCT is a one-of-a-kind conference that connects a wide variety of professionals – young, middle-aged, and young at heart, and across a wide range of disciplines. CSI boasts that the conference attracts, “Architects, Designers, Specifiers, Engineers, Project Managers, Contractors, Construction Managers, Estimators, Owners, Product Representatives, and Manufacturers.”

Over the coming weeks, I’ll be writing a total of seven articles about the conference, of which this is the first. I went with the intent of covering the Portland and Seattle contingencies at CONSTRUCT to share with my colleagues back home, which I did, but I found that the conference was much more meaningful than just covering a few workshops led by my friends. It was unique and refreshing for me personally, and with this first article, it’s important to set the stage of why this conference mattered, and why it’s so important that I share it with you.

CSI CONSTRUCT 2019 - Ali LaManna

Ali LaManna, A.K.A. Cherise’s mom.

A Familiar Tale

As the Emerging Professionals Day continued and multiple speakers presented on astonishingly helpful topics, my friend (and current Portland CSI President) Ali LaManna took the mic and began to tell her story of how she got involved in the organization, and how she got to where she is today.

An introvert, Ali didn’t speak up a whole lot or join in conversations, but she began showing up to CSI Portland events often. Before too long some members Ellen Onstad took notice, and approached Ali about getting more involved.

It didn’t take long before Ali was a leading member of the chapter’s Programs Committee, eventually becoming Committee Chair. Others in the group, and CSI members as a whole, welcomed her with open arms not only at the meetings, but at other events, as well. She was eventually asked to serve as Director on the Board of Directors, and was later asked to serve as Chapter President, her current role within the organization. In her time with CSI, Ali has either created, led, or fostered countless programs and events. She has led workshops, notably her wildly popular Mock Bid Day workshop, which she recently led at the 2019 Young Architect Conference. In short, Ali is a leader.

If any of this sounds familiar, it’s because I copied/pasted large chunks of the last couple paragraphs from the first section of this article. It’s late and I’m tired, cut me some slack. But it also sounds familiar because Ali and I shared the same path – dipping our toes timidly in the water, only to have CSI swimming circles beneath us like a shark, splashing through the water, and eating us whole, Jaws-style. (I never actually watched Jaws – is that what happens in the movie? Maybe a better metaphor would be Pinocchio, where Geppetto is living in the belly of the whale. It’s certainly less violent. But then he gets shot out of the whale’s blow hole or something, doesn’t he? I don’t want to get shot out of CSI’s blow hole, it’s cozy in there and I’m happy. Okay, the metaphor is that we got ate by the CSI whale, but they’re really nice and let us live comfy and warm inside, taking us wherever we want to go, and don’t shoot us out of their blow hole unless we ask them to.)

From this shared experience, I think it’s safe to say that Ali, myself, and a whole host of others in our own ways:

  • Felt unqualified, at first, to hold the positions we’ve held, or plan the events we planned.
  • Gained confidence from the unrelenting support of the CSI community.
  • Grew our network by attending meetings and events. Suddenly there are familiar faces at events, and at our jobs as we work with architects, contractors, consultants, and product reps in our day to day projects, that we now know from CSI events.
  • Gained experience in event planning, project management, leadership, organization, and a host of other areas that continue to help us grow into more confident, successful individuals.

“We’re not micro-managing our emerging professionals. If you find that happening in your CSI Chapter, call me. I’ll fix it. WE NEED YOU IN OUR ORGANIZATION.”

-Cherise Lakeside, FCSI

CSI CONSTRUCT 2019 - Rebecca Taylor

#LADYBOSS Rebecca Taylor and her Squad.

Wait, Weren’t We Talking About CONSTRUCT? Why Are We Talking About Leadership Now?

Because they’re one in the same!! Okay, some conferences are primarily about education – we’ll call them Alright, Interesting, and Average (“AIA” for short.) Other conferences are Youthful, Amazing, and foster Connection (“YAC” for short.) And then there are those conferences that foster Connection, are On point, Novel, Stimulating, Trendy, Right on, Unmatched, Cohesive, and Team-building – we’ll call them “CONSTRUCT” for short. The CONSTRUCT show falls into the latter of these three types of conferences.

As you’ll see in the articles that follow, documenting CONSTRUCT, the values that CSI set out to accomplish through the conference – education, networking, and social connection – were remarkably well accomplished, and combine to make for an unusually powerful conference. While some conferences educate and others connect, CONSTRUCT does both to great effect. When else have I found a conference where I made new friends AND learned how to properly run a meeting? Where I reconnected with former colleagues AND learned tips for effective test taking? Where a good friend of mine presented her recent work AND I learned the extent of the incredible work she’s doing for the first time, even though it’s happening in my own backyard?

If the conference is three days of inspiration, connection, and education, CSI as an organization is 365 days of the same – ready, waiting, and willing to take you into their warm belly with open arms.

CSI CONSTRUCT 2019 - Queen

YAAAASSSSSSS Queen!

Sooooo…CSI is Just for Spec Writers, Right?

I swear to God…ask me that question one more time, and the “CSI” acronym really will come to mean “Crime Scene Investigation” for you.

I can’t wait to share the experience of CONSTRUCT and the role that Portland and Seattle had to play in the success of the show through my writings in the weeks ahead. I’m currently on the plane coming home, two hours outside of Portland, on a dark, brisk Saturday evening. While I’m happy to return home, I share my gratitude with CSI, Portland CSI, and all the individuals who made the conference possible. Likewise, I share my gratitude with the organization and its members for all they do to elevate our profession and our industry all year long. Thank you. CONSTRUCT – I’ll see you in Dallas next year. Portland CSI – the #pdxcsihardhat and I will see you soon.

For more information, or to join, please visit the following links:

About the CONSTRUCT 2019 Article Series

Portland Design Pup traveled to National Harbor, Maryland for CONSTRUCT 2019 this past October 9th-11th to explore the influence that Portland architects, engineers, contractors, and designers are having on the national AEC scene. We attended 7 sessions led by Portlanders and Seattleites, as well as the investiture ceremony for the 2019 Class of Fellows, which included Portland CSI member Cherise Lakeside. We will be sharing images and recaps of each event in a 7 part series of articles, of which this is the first.

About CONSTRUCT 2019

CONSTRUCT is an AEC educational program and exhibition that has the goal of bringing together the different disciplines within the construction industry to help improve the future of the built environment. Breaking down the barriers between the different players within the construction process allows for a more collaborative work environment. CONSTRUCT is the place to share the latest in standards and best practices, industry trends, and emerging technologies. Join Construction Architects, Designers, Specifiers, Engineers, Project Managers, Contractors, Construction Managers, Estimators, Owners, Product Representatives, and Manufacturers for cutting-edge, solutions-driven learning opportunities.

About the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI)

Founded in 1948, CSI is a national association of more than 8,000 experts in building construction and the materials used therein. We are dedicated to improving the communication of construction information through:

  • A diversified membership base of allied professionals involved in the creation and management of the built environment. Join us!
  • Continuous development and transformation of standards and formats.
  • Education and certification of professionals to improve project delivery processes.
  • Creation of practice tools to assist users throughout the facility life-cycle.
[Our mission is] to advance building information management and education of project teams to improve facility performance.

Images courtesy Timothy Niou Photography unless noted otherwise.  Note: This post is sponsored in part by Portland CSI, and originally posted on Portland Design Pup.  It is used with permission elsewhere by Seattle Design Pup and Portland CSI.