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What is Site Inventory?

According to the Dictionary of Landscape Architecture and Construction by Alan Jay Christensen, site
inventory is defined as, “[g]athering and categorizing data and information on natural and human
features in an area proposed for a planning project”.

Landscape architects perform site inventories early in the design process to gather useful, high
quality information that is used during the site analysis phase of a project.

Site inventories will necessarily vary in their degree of complexity and the types of information
required depending on the type of site, location, scale, and scope of the project.

Site inventory is the first step in the design process. Before any site analysis can be performed by a
landscape architect, a thorough site analysis needs to be completed. Site inventory is a form of
contextual inventory. Proper site inventory techniques and concepts lead to a thorough
understanding of the project site and context and which frequently leads to optimum site solutions
and the best utilization of the site to meet the client’s needs during the design process.
Site inventory and analysis are performed as the first steps of the design process. Understanding the
existing conditions of the site and its surrounding context helps inform the designer and leads to
identification of problems and potential uses of a site that maximize the client’s value.

Existing site conditions can be organized into four categories:
Natural Existing Site Conditions
Cultural Existing Site Conditions
Existing Site Features
Existing Infrastructure
We will explore each topic in future articles. This article explores the purpose of site inventories and
discusses some common reasons why landscape architects conduct site inventories.

Why Are Site Inventories Important?

The site is a living organism and is in a constant state of change.

A thorough site inventory assists landscape architects make sound site engineering and site design judgements. Why Identify Existing Natural Conditions? You can probably think of many reasons to identify existing natural site conditions. Site inventories provide data to later integrate natural and man-made systems later on in the design process. Knowing what systems exist and how they function prior to development can help inform designers how to integrate new site functions into existing natural systems and avoid creating new conflicts in the future. Site inventories are important because the information gathered during the inventory process fuels site analysis and the rest of the design process. Some examples of problems that a site inventory can uncover include: Impervious geology Soluble geology Geology prone to land slides Shallow bedrock which will increase grading and foundation costs. Soil .Before we get in to specifics. As landscape architects. Information discovered during site inventories can lead to design solutions which capitalizes on the sites strengths while minimizing negative affects from site weaknesses constraints. landscape architects can integrate their findings into site designs and avoid creating safety hazards. it is our duty to protect the public’s health. lets first review some general reasons why landscape architects include site inventory as a step in the design process. Here are some natural conditions that landscape architects need to include in site inventories: Geologic Substrate Knowledge of the geologic substrate can help designers determine if they underlying geology will pose significant limitations on site development. Site development causes the existing site and its natural systems to change. safety. and welfare as licensed professionals. By identifying problematic natural conditions early in the design phase.

Soil is all around us but taken for granted until we find its limitations that hinder a project’s potential. Here are some reasons why site inventory is useful: Identify areas that are too steep for development Locate parts of the site suitable for development Find shallow grades that will not drain properly or require excessive (and expensive) drainage remediation. Topography and Landform Topography is the single most influential natural site condition that greatly determines where and how development of a site will commence. Here are some reasons for exploring soil-related factors during the site inventory process: Identify expansive soils (which will raise construction costs) Locate poor-draining soils Identify fertile or infertile soils Note areas or soils prone to erosion Determine if soils have an adequate bearing capacity for proposed development. Landscape architects need to understand the complex interrelationships between surface and subsurface water and how it affects a site. Topography and landform affect other natural systems because they direct water and energy flows on the site. Water has the ability to erode and deposit sediment and affect the way soils develop. What too look for with subsurface hydrology: Identify if the water table is extremely close to the surface. Hydrology Hydrology deals with water storage and movement through a site and includes surface and subsurface occurrences. Landform determines which parts of the site are suitable for construction of structures and circulation systems. Determine if expansive materials are in the groundwater fluctuation zone .

As landscape architects. Find out if the site is located in a flood zone. Determine which watershed the site belongs to. Vegetation Most of the planet’s land surface is covered in some sort of vegetation. Do changes in plant associations indicate different soil or hydrologic conditions.e. Determine the liquefaction risk of a site. . Site inventories can uncover important local variations in the microclimate that may prove useful later in the design process. As landscape architects investigate the site. etc. they are interested in identifying the following: What is the basic plant community found on the site (i. but each site has its own microclimate variations which are unique to its location. contain invasive exotic species. Determine permeability and groundwater recharge capacity ability.Be able to find out if groundwater water quality is inadequate for human or landscape use. chaparral. we take a keen interested in identifying the type and species existing on a site prior to development. Locate natural water courses and streams or rivers on a site. Here are some site inventory factors to observe for surface hydrology: Identify areas prone to erosion and sedimentation. Vegetation is intimately linked to soil and hydrology. coastal sage scrub. toxic. etc. Microclimate We all are familiar with the overall climate of California. Research the site’s suitability for septic systems.) Which species are present on the site prior to development. Which plant associations are found on the site. Does existing vegetation pose a hazard to development? Is it highly flammable.

Note areas where cold air collects and creates frost pockets that will damage tender vegetation. Note if wind directions change at different times of the year. or other environmental factor. There are many reasons for identifying existing site features. landscape architects should identify what types of existing utilities and infrastructure exist on or adjacent to the site. including one or more of the following: Are there any existing structures on the site? What views on and off-site exist? Are there existing pedestrian or vehicular systems on the site? Why Identify Existing Infrastructure? During site inventories. high humidity. or sensitive natural features. is there electrical service adjacent to the site? Does the site have access to municipal water and sewer service? If not. The purpose of uncovering this hidden site information can dramatically improve site analysis and design solutions while protecting the health. Why Identify Existing Site Features? Site features are existing natural and man-made conditions that are of particular importance or significance. landscape architects seek out information on particularly unique. Some additional reasons for identifying existing infrastructure and utilities include: Does the site have electrical service? If not. Locate the dominant direction of the wind. desirable. Knowing what types of utilities are on the site can be really useful during the rest of the design process. and welfare of site users. Will reflected heat or wind speed affect what plants and program activities occur on the site? There are many good reasons why landscape architects include natural existing conditions.Identify areas that may be uncomfortable for humans due to reflected heat. During a site inventory. extreme wind velocity. can water or sewer lines be extended to the site? Is there an existing storm water system that services the site or adjacent areas? Why Identify Cultural Conditions? . safety.

Candidates must demonstrate an ability to identify existing cultural conditions during the site inventory process. What values are held by adjacent residents or the site’s community? What sort of informal activities take place in and around the site? Are there festivals held on or near the site at certain times of the year? Are there occasional parades. . or craft fairs held nearby? What are the local vandalism & crime patterns? Are there recreation facilities and parks in the area? Understanding the cultural landscape that the project exists in also involves understanding the basic demographic information about the surrounding area and comprehending the attitudes of the population. street fairs. Human and cultural context (activities. and welfare. There are many reasons why landscape architects conduct site inventories as the first step in the design process. Understand the reasons why we inventory a site and why we look for factors that may negatively impact the public’s health. patterns of human characteristics) include: What is the median population age and age distribution? Describe the average density. human relationships. safety.