Generally speaking, the site inventory is relatively easy to do. The designer needs to (1) look at the site with an open and inquisitive mind, (2) be well organized (perhaps following an outline of items that need to be identified), and (3) be accurate in recording the required information. The gathered information should be organized in a manner that is easily read and understood so it will be a helpful reference in later design phases.
Sources of Information
As with site measuring, there are a number of potential sources for the needed site information including (1) local government offices, (2) online resources, (3) the clients, and (4) on-site observation. Whatever the source, the designer should only collect information that is directly applicable to the project. It is of course a waste of time and money to accumulate data just for the sake of doing so. To avoid this, the designer should repeatedly ask: “Do I need this? How will I use this information? Is it important? Will this information influence how I design?” If the answer is yes, then the information should be recorded.
Local Government and Community Offices Information regarding setbacks, permissible uses, fence/wall height and location, height restrictions for site structures, allowable materials, and so on should be obtained from the local governmental office that regulates and reviews zoning. It may also be necessary to determine what building permits if any are required. In addition to zoning, some communities and condominium associations have design standards that define acceptable styles, materials, and colors. Similarly, some municipalities have tree ordinances that specify what species of trees can or cannot be planted. This knowledge needs to be obtained each time a new design project is located in a district or neighborhood where one has not previously worked. Even when a designer has experience of working in a particular geographic area, it is advisable to periodically check these regulations because they do change over time.
Regional climatic summaries for temperature, precipitation, wind, frost dates, drought conditions, and so on should be sought from regional National Weather Service offices and/or from county and state agencies that advise farmers (also see Online Sources, next).
Online Sources There are a several online sources that can be consulted for usual information regarding a residential site. One is the online GIS mapping system available through a city or county auditor’s Web site that was discussed in the previous chapter. In addition to providing useful dimensional information, this interactive GIS map system may also locate utilities, contours, flood plains, and neighboring houses and structures. Some online GIS maps also permit the plan view to convert to an aerial photograph that can be useful for locating trees and helping one to understand the areas immediately surrounding the site.
A similar source is Google Earth. This free application can be downloaded from the Internet and provides an interactive view of any place on Earth. It is useful for site inventory and analysis because one can view a residential site from any aerial distance or angle. Furthermore, one can add a three-dimensional view of the house by first creating a digital model of it with Google SketchUp (see Figure 7—11, later) and then importing it into Google Earth. The result can be printed and used to record site inventory notes or simply used as an analysis tool by itself.
In addition to these online map sources, much of the previously outlined information that is needed from governmental sources can also be acquired online. So, it is wise to do an Internet search for needed data before actually going to a governmental office or agency.
The Clients Another key source of information about a residential site is the clients themselves. Often, the clients have invaluable site information gained from observing a site over an extended period during varied weather and seasonal conditions. For instance, the clients may have noticed where snow drifts tend to accumulate, where surface drainage flows or where it accumulates after a heavy rain, where the ground dries out quickly, where the neighbor’s children cut through the yard, where difficult areas to mow are, and so on. This site information supplied by the clients can be as beneficial as that collected by the designer. Therefore, it is important for the designer to seek the clients’ input about existing site conditions.
On-Site Visit The most useful information about a site is normally obtained by walking around it with an observant eye, a clipboard and paper for taking careful notes, and a camera. This can occur during the same site visit for taking measurements or later once the base map has been completed. If the visit coincides with taking measurements, then field observations and notes can be recorded on a sketch of the site, plot plan, or printout from an online source. The copy of the base map is the best place to record field observations when the site visit occurs at a later time. Regardless of when they are observed, field notes and graphic symbols are used to identify and highlight necessary information. Typically, each landscape designer or firm has a particular vocabulary of symbols that has been developed through experience. The graphic plan that results from this careful on-site visit is the site inventory (see Figure 7—8, later).
In addition to making written notes about what is seen on base map or other plan drawing of the site, it is also helpful to take digital photographs of the site as recommended in the previous chapter. Photographs are beneficial for four reasons. First, they serve as visual reminders of the existing house and site conditions, ideally reducing the need to return to the site to gather additional information. Second, photographs document existing conditions and serve as “before” pictures prior to any construction. While taking pictures on the site, it is helpful to note the location on a plan where the photographs were taken so both “during” and “after” construction photographs can be taken from the same locations. These “before and after” photographic comparisons are extremely beneficial and rewarding. Third, digital photographs can be used to make recommendations during the site analysis as discussed later in this chapter. Fourth, the images can be used as the bases for hand-drawn or digitally created sketches of proposed design ideas (see Chapter 14).
Photographs should be taken from different vantage points throughout the site. In addition, it is wise to photograph those portions and features of the house that are of special interest to the client. And there should be a photograph of each side of the house to show changes in materials and patterns that may occur from one side to the next. The character on one side of a house does not always match the character on the other sides. In essence, enough photographs should be taken that they can be referred to later in the design process without any questions about the house or site.
A number of photographs have been taken of the Duncan residence that was introduced in Chapter 5. It will be recalled that the front yard of the residence is rather open with existing trees in good condition located on both sides of the driveway. Figure 7—1 shows the existing 3-foot-wide concrete walk leading to the front stoop with a low earth mound to its west. The side yards of the Duncan residence are narrow, have little practical use, and are an eyesore on the east side where garbage cans and debris are stored (Figure 7—2). The backyard is open and free of obstacles with the exception of a Norway
View of the existing concrete entry walk and earth mound in front of the Duncan residence.
View of garbage cans and debris along the east side of the Duncan residence.
maple and the swing set located on the northern part of the site. A split-rail fence and plantings on the northern and eastern property lines of the backyard give it a partially enclosed feeling. Nevertheless, there are some notable off-site views. When standing in the Duncans’ backyard, the neighbors’ houses to the west (Figure 7—3) and north (Figure 7—4) seem relatively close and are easily seen, whereas the view to the east
(Figure 7—5) is more pleasant through several neighbors’ backyards. The views to the northwest (Figure 7—6) and northeast (Figure 7—7) are also attractive.
The following is an outline of site conditions that should be identified during the site inventory. Not all the listed items need to be addressed for every project. What is required for one project may be unnecessary for the next. So, use the outline as a helpful guide to be adapted as desired for each project.
A. Site location
1. Identify surrounding land uses and their conditions.
a. Are they residential, commercial, recreational, educational, and so forth?
b. How well are the adjoining properties maintained?
2. Identify the neighborhood’s character.
a. What is the style, age, and condition of the residential architecture?
b. What is the size, type, and maturity of the vegetation?
c. What is the character of the neighborhood?
• Is it well established, open, wooded, ill-kempt, friendly, estate-like, and so on?
3. Identify the nature of vehicular circulation in the neighborhood.
a. What type of street is the site located on?
• Is it a through street, one-way, two-way, cul-de-sac, and so on?
b. What is the volume of traffic on the street?
• Does the intensity vary during the day? If so, when?
c. How much noise and headlight glare into the windows is produced by the traffic on the street?
d. What is the primary direction for arriving at the site?
• Is there more than one approach?
• Which approach is most frequently used?
• Where is the most common “first view” of the site located?
4. Identify legal restrictions for new construction in the neighborhood.
a. What building types and structures are allowed, especially detached buildings such as garages, tool sheds, gazebos, pergolas, and so on?
b. What are the restrictions for heights and floor areas of new structures?
c. What are the setback requirements for structures?
d. What building permits are required for construction?
1. Identify degree of slope steepness at different areas throughout the site (slope inventory).
2. Identify potential areas of erosion or poor drainage.
3. Identify grade change between inside (finished floor elevation) and outside grade around the foundation of the house, especially at the doorways.
4. Determine the ease of walking on various areas of the site (this will also identify relative steepness).
5. Identify the elevation changes between the top and bottom of existing steps, walls, fences, and so forth.
1. Identify direction(s) of surface water drainage.
a. Does water drain away from the house on all sides?
b. Where does the water flow from the downspouts?
2. Determine wet spots or areas of standing water.
a. Where are they located and for what lengths of time?
3. Identify drainage onto and away from the site.
a. Does any off-site surface water drain onto the site? How much, when, and where?
b. Where does the water flow to when it leaves the site?
1. Identify soil characteristics (acid, alkaline, sandy, clay, gravel, fertile, and so on).
2. Identify depth of topsoil.
3. Identify depth of soil to bedrock.
1. Locate and identify existing plant materials.
2. Where appropriate, identify:
a. plant species.
b. size (caliper [diameter of a tree trunk 4 feet above the ground], spread, total height, and height to bottom of canopy).
d. color (flower and foliage).
f. distinguishing features and characteristics.
3. Determine the overall condition, importance, potential use, and clients’ opinion of existing plant materials.
1. Identify location of sun at sunrise and sunset at different times of the year (January, March, June, and September, for example).
2. Identify the vertical angle of the sun above the horizon at different times of the day and seasons of the year.
3. Determine areas of the site that are mostly sunny or mostly shady during different times of the day and seasons of the year.
4. Determine areas exposed to and protected from the intense summer afternoon sun.
5. Identify areas exposed to warming winter sun.
6. Identify prevailing wind direction throughout the year.
7. Determine site areas exposed to or protected from cooling summer breezes.
8. Determine site areas exposed to or protected from cold winter winds.
9. Identify depth of frost in winter months.
G. Existing house
1. Identify house type and architectural style.
2. Identify color and texture of facade materials.
3. Identify location of windows and doors.
a. For doors, identify direction of opening and frequency of use.
b. For both doors and windows, identify elevation of bottoms (sills) and tops (heads).
4. Identify interior room type and location.
a. Identify which rooms are used most often.
5. Locate basement windows and their depth below ground.
6. Locate outside elements such as downspouts, water spigots, electrical outlets, lights attached to house, electric meter, gas meter, clothes-dryer vent, and air conditioners.
7. Locate overhangs and note their distance beyond the face of the house and their heights above the ground.
H. Other existing structures
1. Locate and identify condition and materials of existing walks, terraces, steps, walls, fences, swimming pools, and so on.
1. Locate utility lines (water, gas, electric, telephone, cable, storm sewer, septic tank, leach field, etc.).
a. Are there any easements associated with the utility lines?
b. Are there any telephone and electrical junction boxes?
c. Are there any utility shut-off valves?
2. Identify location and height of air conditioner or heat pump. a. What direction is the intake and exhaust of the air flow?
3. Identify location of pool equipment and associated utility connections.
4. If existing, locate irrigation system.
1. Take note of what is seen from all sides of the site looking off-site. a. Do the views vary during different seasons?
2. Observe views from inside the house looking to the outside.
3. Experience views from off the site looking onto the site (views from the street as well as from different sides of the site). a. Where are the best and worst views of the site?
K. Spaces and senses
1. Determine the location and extent of outdoor rooms. Identify materials of the floors, walls, and ceilings of the rooms.
2. Identify the feeling and character of these rooms (open, enclosed, light, airy, dark, gloomy, cheerful, restful, and so on).
3. Determine pleasant or disturbing sounds (singing birds, traffic noise, children playing, rustling leaves, and so on).
4. Identify fragrances and odors.
L. Existing site functions and problems
1. Identify how and when different areas of the site are currently used.
2. Determine location for such activities as daily leaving and arriving home, outside recreation, gardening, and work areas.
3. Determine site maintenance problems (unkempt lawn, worn lawn edges along walks, worn lawn areas due to intense use, lack of weeding, broken pavement, and so on).
4. Identify location of snowdrifts in the winter.
Figure 7—8 shows the site inventory for the Duncan residence.