I have worked as a commercial interior designer for over 6 years now and during this time I have been party to and lead a lot of building surveys, thankfully technology has advanced greatly over time to aid this often arduous but essential task.
My first week at University on the Interior Design degree course at Manchester Metropolitan saw us pacing around the 8th floor, measuring various anatomy parts and familiarising ourselves with the lengths of arms, hands and feet. It was a fun experience at the time but an invaluable lesson. You only learn the hard way as to why this was a useful practice. When I first started in the industry my surveying responsibilities tended to be fairly small areas for servery and shop counter refurbishments. Over the years they have increased to several areas of a large buildings and at times, whole buildings and even Green houses. All buildings are different so you have to adopt your own rules and structure and apply it to each survey regardless of size. Your starting points will vary according to the information you have at hand before you start.
The best surveys are when you have a previous AutoCAD drawing and all you have to do is check it through on site, you know, that the walls are where the drawing says they are! (you’d be surprised how many aren’t) Also a few dimension checks, even on a new build this is important, as the smallest difference can have the biggest impact in real life than on paper. The Second Best come in two varieties; the ones where you have a full sized paper copy of the existing, this is usually an old hand drawn copy which will,only scale off in ‘old school’ imperial scales such as 1/4″: 1 Foot, Government buildings especially the RAF are renowned for archived drawings like this (I still constantly remind myself to buy one of these scale rules for such times) the other is a PDF format scalable at A1 but in A4 size. Neither of the afore mentioned are that hard to deal with these days if you have a printer which can scan up-to A0 size. Thankfully CDS-Wilman do, (affectionately known as KIP) Any other survey is going to require a bit more on site equipment and some patience.
List of equipment I would recommend for doing a survey:
- Plenty* of plain A3 Paper (*you can never take too much)
- A3 Clipboard – there is nothing worse that not having anything supportive to lean on when trying to draw a straight line. (Ironically Food Prep Environments are not the best for clean surfaces to lean on and can leave the worst of stains)
- Ruler/ruler guide paper like FreeHand Designer
- Retractable Pencil – a normal pencil will do as long as it is sharp but you do have to remember a sharpener too! (or several pencils as you will go through them)
- Pen – I love the 4 colour Bic Ballpoint as they say it is convenience in a pen
- Electronic Disto-meter &/or Tape measure – to have both is best practice really as you will need a tape for smaller dimensions and when the battery on the disto dies!
- Somebody else to help (Divide and Conquer)
Rules for Getting Started
When I arrive on site for a survey it usually coincides with the first meeting with the client and taking the overall brief for the proposed project. The brief can be taken before or after a survey really. Any key points from the client briefing can be noted for checking as the survey is being done or revisited after the Survey is completed. These points of note usually include structural changes to walls so the composition of wall should be noted for Structural surveyor requirements or whether there are the required Mechanical and Electrical (M&E) services within the area to achieve what the client needs, drain locations are always an important issue for my work.
Briefs aside, in my experience, the best way to start a survey before even putting pen to paper is a good wander around. This may seem like a waste of time if you’re pushed for time, but it allows you to get your bearings, making a mental map of how the areas, especially if there are a more than one, interact and sit with each other. This is very useful with older building which have, over the years, been extended and added to by different builders and the additions do not always align with the existing. The walk around also allows you to smile and say hello to the people working there. You are there to do your job as required by the client, usually their boss, but you have to remember you have entered their place of work. Introducing yourself in a more human way, without a clipboard barrier between you and them can work wonders, as well as help the offer of cups of tea to flow a lot easier.
I have learnt to make my time as productive as possible so when I first arrive on a site my camera is the first thing I will unpack, this way photos can be done at the same time as the first walk around. This routine also helps make my time on site more efficient, as they say in business ‘time is money’ (or a quick get away before the rush hour traffic). Also in my speciality area of food service there can be big walk-in’s for the venues usually breakfast and lunch times and are best worked around, not through.
Pen to Paper
Once you have your bearings it will give you a better idea of how best to start a simple outline sketch for the area you are surveying. Proportion your sketch so you can fit as much information on one piece of paper. You will have to make a judgement call though as to how small your detailing needs to be to fit on one piece of paper. If the area is fairly large or several rooms it is sometimes easier to split these onto several sheets but do remember to note on each sheet the area and how the papers link the survey together. You will have to draw this up later and you may have even slept between then and the survey. What you think you will remember at the time of survey and what you actually do remember will rely a lot on your self-discipline especially if you need to refer back to your original surveys a month or so after.
Keeping your survey drawing as clear as possible will save you time later on. Drawings can get very busy and cross overs of dimensions on drawings are common and can become confusing. This is where I like to use my 4 colour Bic Ballpoint (No I didn’t have one in school and yes I was jealous of people who did, but this is not the sole reason) One of my surveying self disciplines is to use my AutoCAD line colours in my survey drawing. My overall sketch is in pencil for ease of alterations but I then use green ink for building/wall dimensions, red ink for service information and black ink for equipment information. All achievable at the click of the pen and not after fumbling and dropping pens all over the floor (been there, done that). It makes it a lot easier to scan read it as my brain already uses these colour filters.
Needless to say the more surveys you do the more you will follow your own routine and set your own self disciplines specific to you. I know when I measure a door way I always measure architrave to architrave, so that the adjacent wall measurement is the flat measurement for Equipment and Furniture. The amount of time you spend doing a survey will mostly depend on the size of the area. You will be spending a lot of time on your feet, if your usual work is office based like mine you may not be used to this. Comfort is key. I try to wear flat shoes and no scarves or flappy clothes as these can drag on the floor and get in the way.
Be patient not just with yourself but others, especially if you are in a public place. I have lost count of the amount of times I have been asked where the toilets or other departments are. Some people even glare at you when they are waiting at checkouts, wondering why your not serving them. Even though I do not wear the companies uniforms I am there in a professional capacity. The phrase ‘I’m sorry I don’t work here’ trips off the tongue all too easily but the toilet location is one of the first things I now check on my walk around. I have also become aware that locals are very protective of the places they frequent. Some regulars have been coming for years, the same pot of tea at the same table and they see you wandering around with a Clip board and Tape measure and they are naturally curious. I am always pleasant to all enquiries as to what I’m up to but I try not to engage in any drawn out discussions about what my clients possible plans could be, that is for the client to do, when and if. Appearing approachable can actually glean a lot of useful information from the public which the client might not be aware of. A minority however, think you are part of a vicious take over bid and are conspiring to destroy their place of solace. Even if you are, Smile and say you aren’t, it is easier on all.
Before you leave always double check your drawing, take a step back (metaphorically) from your sketch survey, check you have all the dimensions you need to be able to redraw it later, as an 8 hour round trip is not something you will want just to check one thing.
A goodbye and a thank you is the best way to leave any survey.