Surveying the Site

September 14, 2018
By Madi Visser, Semester Program Teaching Assistant


This past week we took the next step in developing our project: surveying the site. This was a new experience for all of us and we certainly had a lot to learn, so before heading to Montpelier we took some time in studio to plan our approach. We discussed what needed to happen to get an accurate map of the site and decided which one of us would perform each task.

Once at the site, we began laying out the exterior dimensions of the area we were mapping. We settled on a 50’ square, which would provide us with enough information to locate where on the site we wanted our building and what the surrounding terrain would look like. To make sure the square was accurate, we used a compass to align a string on the north-south axis, then laid out the next side by calculating a 30’ 40’ 50’ triangle. This triangle helped us ensure that the next line we placed was perfectly perpendicular to the first.

After mapping out the perimeter, we placed stakes along each edge at 5’ intervals. These stakes formed grid lines, which we used to find at which increments we wanted to find an elevation. In order to accurately measure the elevation of each point we used a tool called a transit, which works just like a telescope. We set the unit up at the highest corner of the square and adjusted the legs so the transit was level, then we began measuring each point. This requires two people. The first stands at the point you are measuring and holds a tall ruler straight up and down. The second person looks through the eyepiece of the transit and focuses in on the ruler. Wherever the crosshairs of the lens hit is the elevation of that point.


We moved through the grid following this process and by the end had a comprehensive map of every point on the site. Using this information, we could then create an accurate topographic map, which is critical for designing on such a steep slope.


This process took us a bit longer than we expected, but actually mapping the site ourselves gave us a much better idea of what we were working with and where our designs could go from there. On to the next step: Design.