Site Inventory – Purpose & Process

The job task that we will explore in this article is your ability to identify existing site conditions for the California Supplemental Exam for landscape architects. There are several existing site conditions that landscape architect candidates must be to identify.

We will explore the individual categories in future articles. Today, we will discuss the purpose and process for inventorying a landscape architecture site.

What Do I Need to Know to Pass the CSE?

There will likely be a question or two on the purpose and process of site inventories as they relate to the practice of landscape architecture in California. Some of the information is professional common sense and some will specifially pertain to the California’s unique practice environment.

Let’s first discuss the reasons for conducting a site inventory.

The goal of identifying existing site conditions is to determine what sort of influence and affect that they will have on the project site and any proposed landscape development.

Here are some specific knowledge areas that you must be fluent in to pass the CSE. We will look at three specific job knowledge areas that fall under CSE job task T6 (identify existing site conditions).

  • Knowledge of purposes for identifying existing site conditions (e.g., natural, cultural, site features, infrastructure). (Knowledge Area 21)
  • Knowledge of procedures used to identify existing site conditions (e.g., natural, cultural, site features, infrastructure).
 (Knowledge Area 15)

Purpose for Identifying Existing Site Conditions

There is likely one or more questions on the CSE about the reasons why landscape architects perform site inventories at the beginning of the design process. There are three steps that lead to an initial design solution on a site.

The entire process begins with an inventory of the site.

The first step is to conduct an extensive site inventory.

Next, the site analysis step of the design process uses information gathered during the site inventory phase along with program information from the client to inform the preliminary design phase.
Site Inventory is the First Step in the Design Process
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 two 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.

Site Inventory Process
Sites are active networks that are intertwined in complex relationships between the site and its off-site environmental context.[3] All landscape architect candidates must be knowledgeable of the procedures used to identify existing site conditions. These conditions can be broadly divided into four major categories:

  • Natural conditions
  • Cultural conditions
  • Site features
  • Existing infrastructure

There are three major categories of site features and elements that must be observed and recorded during the site inventory process.

First, there are the natural on-site elements, such as, geologic substrate, surface and sub-surface hydrology, topography, soil types, vegetation and plant communities, wildlife populations, and microclimates.

Second, on-site man-made support systems provide life-sustaining utilities and services to the site. These support services are sub-divided into two categories: gravity flow systems and pressure systems.

Third, off-site influences must be observed and recorded for analyzing in the future. Some off-site observation to make include land use, views and visual quality, transportation systems and options, and regulatory constraints.

Most observations during the site inventory phase of a project fall under one of these three broad categories.

What to Include in a Site Inventory
The following items should be included when inventorying existing site conditions. There are several categories of information that should be observed and recorded during the site inventory.

Some areas examined during the site inventory process include:

  • Location
  • Neighborhood Context
  • Site Dimensions and Zoning Requirements
  • Legal Context
  • Regulatory Context
  • Natural Physical Features
  • Man-Made Physical Features
  • Circulation
  • Utilities and Infrastructure
  • Climate
  • Sensory

In the next few articles in the series, we will explore each individual topic in detail so you (and I) will be prepared to pass the CSE for landscape architects the first time.

Related Articles:

  1. New Series – Site Inventory
  2. Site Inventory – Identifying Existing Conditions
  3. Site Inventory – Purpose & Process



John is a landscape architect who is currently preparing to take the California Supplemental Exam to become licensed in California. He is currently a licensed professional landscape architect in Georgia and Florida. John graduated from California State University, Pomona with a BSLA degree in landscape architecture in 1997 and has extensive practice experience in residential and commercial landscape design.

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