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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 clients 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 clients 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.

Before we get in to specifics, lets first review some general reasons why landscape architects include
site inventory as a step in the design process.
Site inventories are important because the information gathered during the inventory process fuels
site analysis and the rest of the design process.
A thorough site inventory assists landscape architects make sound site engineering and site design
Site inventories provide data to later integrate natural and man-made systems later on in the design
Information discovered during site inventories can lead to design solutions which capitalizes on the
sites strengths while minimizing negative affects from site weaknesses constraints.
Why Identify Existing Natural Conditions?
You can probably think of many reasons to identify existing natural site conditions.
Site development causes the existing site and its natural systems to change. 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.

As landscape architects, it is our duty to protect the publics health, safety, and welfare as licensed
professionals. By identifying problematic natural conditions early in the design phase, landscape
architects can integrate their findings into site designs and avoid creating safety hazards.

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. 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 is all around us but taken for granted until we find its limitations that hinder a projects
potential. 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.
Topography and Landform

Topography is the single most influential natural site condition that greatly determines where and
how development of a site will commence. Landform determines which parts of the site are suitable
for construction of structures and circulation systems. Topography and landform affect other natural
systems because they direct water and energy flows on the site. 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

Hydrology deals with water storage and movement through a site and includes surface and
subsurface occurrences. Water has the ability to erode and deposit sediment and affect the way
soils develop. Landscape architects need to understand the complex interrelationships between
surface and subsurface water and how it affects a site.

What too look for with subsurface hydrology:

Identify if the water table is extremely close to the surface.

Determine if expansive materials are in the groundwater fluctuation zone

Be able to find out if groundwater water quality is inadequate for human or landscape use.
Determine permeability and groundwater recharge capacity ability.
Research the sites suitability for septic systems.
Determine the liquefaction risk of a site.
Here are some site inventory factors to observe for surface hydrology:

Identify areas prone to erosion and sedimentation.

Locate natural water courses and streams or rivers on a site.
Determine which watershed the site belongs to.
Find out if the site is located in a flood zone.

Most of the planets land surface is covered in some sort of vegetation. As landscape architects, we
take a keen interested in identifying the type and species existing on a site prior to development.
Vegetation is intimately linked to soil and hydrology. As landscape architects investigate the site,
they are interested in identifying the following:

What is the basic plant community found on the site (i.e. coastal sage scrub, chaparral, etc.)
Which species are present on the site prior to development.
Which plant associations are found on the site.
Do changes in plant associations indicate different soil or hydrologic conditions.
Does existing vegetation pose a hazard to development? Is it highly flammable, toxic, contain
invasive exotic species, etc.

We all are familiar with the overall climate of California, but each site has its own microclimate
variations which are unique to its location. Site inventories can uncover important local variations in
the microclimate that may prove useful later in the design process.

Identify areas that may be uncomfortable for humans due to reflected heat, extreme wind velocity,
high humidity, or other environmental factor.
Note areas where cold air collects and creates frost pockets that will damage tender vegetation.
Locate the dominant direction of the wind. Note if wind directions change at different times of the
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. The
purpose of uncovering this hidden site information can dramatically improve site analysis and design
solutions while protecting the health, safety, and welfare of site users.

Why Identify Existing Site Features?

Site features are existing natural and man-made conditions that are of particular importance or
significance. During a site inventory, landscape architects seek out information on particularly
unique, desirable, or sensitive natural features. There are many reasons for identifying existing site
features, 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, landscape architects should identify what types of existing utilities and
infrastructure exist on or adjacent to the site. Knowing what types of utilities are on the site can be
really useful during the rest of the design process. Some additional reasons for identifying existing
infrastructure and utilities include:

Does the site have electrical service? If not, is there electrical service adjacent to the site?
Does the site have access to municipal water and sewer service? If not, 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?

Candidates must demonstrate an ability to identify existing cultural conditions during the site
inventory process.

Human and cultural context (activities, human relationships, patterns of human characteristics)

What is the median population age and age distribution?

Describe the average density.
What values are held by adjacent residents or the sites 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, street fairs, 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

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 publics health, safety, and welfare.