Explaining the Design Process: The Site Survey

The site survey generally happens over 2-3 days and is spread over all Stage 1 (Information Gathering) and Stage 2 (Concept Design) & Stage 3 (Documentation), as different information is gathered as needed during the design and documentation process

Related Case Study: The Aurora Wellness Centre

The Initial Site Survey

A site survey generally happens in a couple of stages The initial survey taken during Concept Design is a brief site check, assuming that I already have access to existing conditions plans and services drawings. The purpose of the Initial survey is to conduct a quick walkthrough (generally with my client), discussing ideas for the space, identifying any problematic areas, taking some key dimensions, having a quick check of the plan to see if there are any really obvious visual differences between the existing documentation and the reality of what is actually built (discrepancies happen all the time), taking photos of the existing conditions and any details or finishes that are relevant.

In the site below, existing look, feel and finishes from Lobby and the Health Club (oiled Blackbutt timber battens, timber floorboards, rose gold mirrors) as well as identifying key problematic areas in the new site such as the very narrow entry, extremely low ceiling height restrictions, and very thick concrete walls surrounding the space that restricted any new services entering the space. In addition, key views from windows, direction of the sun, the fragrance of the oiled Blackbutt and other ‘ambient’ elements are also observed.

Our standard project timeline below illustrates where the Initial Site Survey fits into your overall project.

  • Information Gathering: Initial Site Investigation, taking the Brief & Sketch Planning & the Moodboard

  • Investment estimate (by Your Project Manager & Builder)

  • Concept Design, schematic illustrations & sketches, FF&E Preliminaries & Joinery Preliminaries

  • Update Investment estimate (by your Project Manager & Builder)

  • Detail Design & Documentation, drafting plans & elevations for permits, detail design of Joinery, scheduling of FF&E, coordinate with consultants

  • Permit Application (by your Project Manager

  • Construction Documentation, Tender stage RFI’s, revisions to documentation in preparation for construction

  • Tender (by your Project Manager)

  • Construction Stage Design Services, Site meeting & inspections, site instructions & responding to RFI’s, materials approvals, Shop drawing review, Defects Inspection & report, As Built documentation, Handover attendance.

  • As Builts

The Full Site Survey

Generally, the Full Site survey does not occur until after the Sketch Plan has been finalised (ie in Stage 2 & Stage 3). This way, we can use the Sketch Plan to identify the key areas were particular attention needs to be made on site, and identify where the new design will be affected by the existing conditions.

This Survey is always done over 2 full days, as they are often very time consuming, physically and mentally exhausting. Even if the site is small I always allow for 2 separate visits in my design fee, as sometimes details can be missed, dimensions incorrectly notated, and as the the design evolves, more information may be needed to be gathered on site.

The time lapse video above illustrates the process of surveying an existing site: in this instance I’m documenting the existing locations of the ceiling services (ie lighting, airconditioning, sprinklers, exit signs etc). The full survey for this site took an entire day

Some of the details of a Full Site Survey results for the Wellness Centre below indicate just some of the information that must be gathered at the start of a project. The notes below capture information such as wall, door and glazing types, sill heights, window and door framing sizes, finishes, dimensions, expansion joins, existing pipework & power locations, and floor finishes.

I also check ceiling heights, locations of different types of ceilings, lighting elements, air conditioning, sprinklers, smoke detectors, emergency lighting and exit signs.

All this is used to document the drawings for the the building permit & coordinating the services design with the engineer.⁠ I always like to get a through picture in my mind of the existing services, as it is vital to have an understanding of this when reviewing engineering drawings and coordinating with the architectural during the documentation stage down the track.

Clients often wonder why the design fee for Interior design is high; we spend a considerable amount of time on site investigating the existing conditions and analysing how that will affect the design. Often existing drawings are not available, or are of poor quality, little useful information and inaccurate. I often experience projects where the existing architectural & engineering drawings vary from what is on site.

Lisa is a very dedicated professional with a keen eye for fine detail and accurate documentation. I have worked with Lisa on more than 10 airport lounges and I can highly recommend her work. Lisa is also good a reviewing and coordinating services drawings.

D. Johnson

(please pin the below graphic to your pinterest board for reference)

So, why Hire an Interior Designer?

Unfortunately many people get confused or intimidated by the idea of hiring a professional Interior Designer for their project, and might be concerned about the process of working with a designer & the costs of doing so.

A lot of people I meet feel that they can hire a builder and do the design themselves, selecting materials and fixtures in dribs and drabs, often at the last minute (leading to less choice) with poor planning & lack of an overall vision. This will lead increased costs due to changes, additions and variations that the builder will not have allowed for.

You will save money & time. Your designer will plan functional and appealing spaces, provide drawings, visualisations & material / furnishing selections in a strategic manner so you can get competitive quotes, and you know what the design will look like & cost right from the start.

You require a Qualified Interior Designer & Registered Building Practitioner for any commercial project or residential project that requires a building permit; a proper interior designer is a highly trained & experienced registered professional, not just someone with ‘a good eye for colour’ and a knack for picking furniture.

Let’s make something beautiful together, book an appointment to explore your dream project.

Image: Omar Rodriguez @ormphotography