Analysing Sites - Geographic Information Systems by Graeme Fan

Auckland council provides free of charge a Geographic Information System (GIS) which is a valuable tool on the web showing Auckland in a geographic format - 

The website provides a wealth of free information that will help you determine important aspects about a sites viability when making your initial assessments. 


I consider the proximity for all main services needed to enable a site and ultimately dwellings to function. These include stormwater run off, wastewater, potable water, electricity, gas and telecommunications. 

Wastewater lines are shown in red, stormwater lines in green, potable water in blue. It is important to analyse your site and determine how you will get these services to your site if they are not already serving it. Brownfield sites (existing use) will have services already available, but when increasing the number of units on the proposed location, additional/increased upgrading will almost certainly be required. You need to figure out how to get the recognised public lines in to serve your increased requirements.  An ideal scenario is where the necessary lines are already passing through your site or within a very near proximity. One also needs to look at capacity. A good point to discuss with your civil engineer about loadings.

More common is working out how to get the necessary services to your site which would typically require extending the line and/or connecting via a neighbouring (private) property. Both can be costly and time consuming. For the latter, neighbour's consent is required and can often require some financial contribution for their inconvenience and disruption. If that fails, there is the Local Government Act which albeit a longer process, can obligate the relevant neighbour to permit you to make the necessary connections.

It's quite common for a site to be unviable purely because services aren't able to be provided to the site economically and thereby crippling the financial viability of the project. 

Also the site topology is an important factor, as these services require sufficient 'fall' to enable the stormwater and wastewater to fall sufficiently in order not to block / cause disruption to the overall network. 

Here is a screenshot of the GIS system made available by the Auckland City Council...


The GIS illustrates the land topology. The topological lines are shown in 0.5 meter levels, so it is a relatively straightforward exercise to study the lay of the land. This will aid your determination of important considerations, notably how the development might look and also looking at how you will get services to your site. Specific planning development controls can also be determined to a certain extent.

Flood Risk

Flooding is an important issue to consider. Council will look at the risk of your proposed site in relation to flooding risk. The main risks are termed Flood Prone, Overland Flow Path, Flood Sensitive . These are events that are typically measured against a 1 in 100 year event and the council will want to know how you have mitigated this risk when this event occurs. These are typically not unassailable, just requiring good planning and strategies to address this. A good surveyor and geotechnical engineer can help you resolve this.  

Measurement Tools

The Auckland Council GIS has a useful measurement tool which help measure site size and determine critical planning controls that would need to be taken into consideration depending on your specific site requirements. When analysing a site, one can actually perform and layout rudimentary site schemes, rights of way etc. All can be done at no cost prior to engaging a landl surveyor. 

Note - This information above is my viewpoint alone and should not be construed as specific advice. I strongly advise that you seek professional advice from a qualified professional when conducting your own analysis. 

What Do I Look For In An Architect/Draftsperson? by Graeme Fan

The qualities to look for in an architect vary from project to project. Creative, problem solver, solutions based, practical, organised, commercially minded and a good communicator.

I rely on my architect to be the visionary alongside me the sponsor.

I also recognise that they are far more experienced and qualified to understand the possibilities and constraints of each individual site. They should be looking around the site for its surroundings that occur both naturally and in the built form. Rarely do houses stand alone.

Their creativity should be able to take all things (I don’t find naturally easy) into consideration when designing your new dwelling(s) or extension.

I also find myself having to consciously let go of the reigns and let their creativity flow. And if you are working with your architect for the first time, it’s always good to write a brief of what you are wanting to achieve.

They need to be practical too, understanding your budget from the outset, constraints of the site, understanding of local planning controls and able to communicate to you the possibilities along with the potential issues you could face by taking one direction or another.

They should also point out to you how the end product could look, help you visualise this in some way, whether that’s through some kind of render or perhaps an onsite walk-through pointing out how it can look from a range of perspectives.

They should be organised, keeping your project on track and be able to manage your project alongside their other commitments. One needs to be mindful that if they are good, they will have a number of other projects on, so I have to remind myself that they’re not waiting at the other end of the phone for my call. I try to budget as long a lead time as possible to iron out all the issues and obtain the design that works best for the site. You will learn pretty quickly if they’re organised (or not). A lack of organisation in meetings, messy offices, some of the smaller things could include file-naming conventions illogical. For me these are warning signs that could spell problems for me down the line, as it demonstrates a lack of professionalism and order which I think is required in an architect or any professional for that matter.

Being commercially minded, means my architect will have an eye on my budget too. So this is an important function and value that the architect can contribute. There’s no point designing something my budget can’t accommodate, no matter how cool and beautiful the design is. They will take into consideration my priorities and incorporate these, where oftentimes compromise is required. I haven’t been involved in any project where budget wasn’t a consideration. So in such circumstances, the design must factor this in too.

Like anything, communication is the key to any good relationship. Face to face meetings and recording of minutes is crucial, particularly so when you are getting to know each other and the relationship is new. Even so, the value of taking minutes and following up, cannot be emphasised enough. I need to feel comfortable enough to be able to pick up the phone and call my architect and discuss the project. Thoughts and ideas come into my mind at all times of the day and I like to share these when they are freshest. But I am also mindful of not overstaying my welcome, so to speak. Bothering my architect too much would negatively impact the outcome, so resist the temptation to call too often.

With the advent of the internet, it’s a fantastic tool to take images of things that inspire you and it doesn’t just have to be dwellings you like. It could be pieces of art or things that you take inspiration from and that your architect could reference in the overall scheme.


Before | After by Graeme Fan

Just wanted to give you an example of the types of sites we work on. The site was approximately 1200sm in size with an existing character square fronted villa situated on it. We subdivided the site into equal size sections. We made the decision to relocate the villa on the site so as to optimise the aspect for all 3 units we would create - restoration of existing villa and creation of 2 new townhouses. The right of way for the new townhouses was able to be sited on the southern side of the boundary so as to provide north-western aspects for all 3 gardens.

Here are images of the site prior to subdivision...

2015-02-26 11.41.15.jpg

And images of the villa that we restored...

Such a gorgeous house with beautiful proportions and fantastic stud height. We reconfigured internally to reflect today's modern lifestyles.

We are currently in the middle of construction of the two townhouses, which are ultra modern and we feel delivers everything possible for a modern family. We are really excited about it...

Architect or Draftsman? by Graeme Fan

Draftspeople serve a highly useful purpose for a great many projects. For starters, your project might not require the expense of an architect. You might simply be needing to make some minor alterations to your property, internal even, where an architect (and their fees) may not warrant the expense.

In my opinion, when you are looking to make a change that will affect the design/aesthetics of the property, it might be worth engaging an architect to ensure your property’s integrity is not negatively affected by any new changes and in fact enhances your property. And as mentioned in a previous post, the initial upfront costs are likely to enhance the overall value of your property in the long run. Isn’t that the goal?

There are countless examples around the city where poor design has left an indelible mark on the dwelling and probably negatively impacting the property’s value.

If you’re remodelling inside i.e. creating an open plan kitchen or remodelling a bathroom, then there is in my opinion little need for an architect, unless as mentioned above, I think there is a specific design problem that needs to be solved.

A good draftsperson will be able to take concepts done by others to Building Consent stage as well – so you might be able to achieve some savings that way.

How Do You Find Your Team...? by Graeme Fan

All the work (and in my opinion it should be extensive) you do up front will pay you big dividends to the project’s success. What I mean by this, is if you do your research and due diligence on your team member selection, then you are so far ahead of the curve.

So what if I don't know if that supplier is reliable and trustworthy? You might not have been involved in a construction project before or you might be new to the country. So where do you begin?

I start by asking… speak to trusted relatives, friends, colleagues and associates who’s opinions and judgments you value. If they’re a good judge of character then they are your best place to start. They will know someone however unrelated to what you are looking for. If they don’t know someone directly, they will know someone who might know someone. However, the more steps removed you are, the riskier it naturally gets. It’s always preferable to be only 1 link away, so that their character is hopefully aligned to that of your referrer.

I believe people tend to associate in similar groups, so those who are reliable and trustworthy tend to associate/work alongside people with similar principles.

I have also found that once you have made a good contact and you’re very confident of their abilities etc, they will be able to open many doors for you particularly if they’re in the industry. So for instance, if your architect is good, they will have a large network of professionals they can recommend to work on your project.

Before you know it, bingo – you’re making large leaps and bounds in a short space of time. Having said that, always do your homework on every referral that you engage. This can be anything from visiting their past and current work and also following up on references that is (in my experience) a wise (however tedious) exercise to do. Bearing in mind, they will only naturally give you positive references, but there might be something the referee says that affects your view positively or negatively – so definitely worth doing.

I want to say one caveat about the above, do not hold your referrers to account if the relationship between your new supplier should go awry once you’re working in the project. I say this because in my opinion, the onus always remains on you to do your homework on them and be 100% convinced that they are the right person for your team. They might have been great for your referrer, but for one reason or another, they might not have been a good fit for you.

Trade magazines can also be helpful, but I would consider second tier and buyer beware. Beautiful glossy images are impressive (as you’ll hopefully agree on my site!) but they only tell you part of the story. They do not disclose the cost overruns, the arguments, the fallouts, the poor designs having to be reworked. They just show you the finished article, which doesn’t tell you the full picture unfortunately. I have learnt this lesson the hard way.

The absolute last resort is to search through unknown routes such as internet search or white pages etc. I try to avoid this route like the plague. You simply have no idea as to how good they are. There is no levelling ground on the internet, anyone can advertise on the web, so caveat emptor to the highest order…

Most projects start with design, so naturally this involves an architect or draftsman… who do I choose? I’ll cover this in my next post.