The other day a potential client contacted our company for a consultation about adding on to his home. We asked for his address and a little bit of information about what services he needed as preparation for the meeting. One of the questions we ask is whether the project site has any unusual conditions. He answered no, that it was an “ordinary property.”
When we checked online maps and the County records, we found out that the property was oddly shaped and on a steep hillside. It seemed a bit odd that he thought it that was ordinary. Probably in his neck of the woods, it is ordinary. But to us, that kind of site raises issues. So, perhaps we need to be more specific about what kind of site is ordinary and what is unusual.
Ordinary is a rectangular-shaped lot on flat terrain, in a standard subdivision, with only similar properties with similar uses alongside. Ordinary is a single family home in a residential subdivision, and with no natural features nearby such as a slope, canyon, creek, lake, ocean, or any built structures (e.g., power plant, bridge, overpass, train tracks) or anything like that adjacent to the property. Ordinary is a commercial building within an area zoned for similar-sized buildings used in the same way—industrial buildings in industrial areas, stores and restaurants in retail areas, office buildings in office parks, and so on.
If your property is on a hillside or in an area that floods, it would be important for us to take that into consideration. If your property is “grandfathered” into an area that has subsequently changed uses, then we need to know that. Some unique features are visible to the eye, and other features are known only through familiarity with the surrounding area. As architects, we often know about the soil conditions of particular parts of our county that the residents might not be aware of. We also know if the property is in a floodplain. But we might not know that every time it rains your neighbor’s yard drains water into your backyard. Or that when there is a heat wave your building’s heating, ventilation and cooling (HVAC) system gets overworked and your employees complain. Or that the windows of the building wobble when a big truck goes by.
When you start an architectural project, take a step back and think about all of the “unusual” things you know about your building or your property. Many properties are not ordinary and most buildings are at least somewhat unique. Share those situations and circumstances with your architect. That will help your architect to address those concerns and customize your design specifically to meet your needs. Please don’t assume that we already know. All information is good information in the design process.
By Lorianna Kastrop, Vice President The Kastrop Group, Inc. Architects