Landscape Site Grading Principles: Grading with Design in Mind
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More About This Title Landscape Site Grading Principles: Grading with Design in Mind


A complete guide to site grading for designers and other visual learners

Grading With Design in Mind: Landscape Site Grading Principles is a comprehensive guide to grading, written specifically from the design perspective. Heavily illustrated and non-technical, this book meets the needs of designers and visual learners by presenting the principles and methods of site grading with less emphasis on engineering, and a strong focus on the effect on the overall aesthetic. Written by a professor in America's number-one ranked undergraduate landscape architecture program, the book guides readers step-by-step through the process of solving various grading problems in real-life scenarios.

Landscape designers, landscape architects, and engineers need to have a deep understanding of site grading as the foundation of any project. Grading plans must not only solve practical requirements, but also create landforms that contribute to the aesthetic ambition of the overall site and architectural design concept. Grading With Design in Mind takes a highly visual approach to presenting modern grading techniques and considerations, providing designers the guidance they need to become competent in site grading while understanding the design implications of the subject. Features include:

  • Numerous illustrations to support the text
  • Step-by-step examples
  • Professional grading plans

Studying the professional grading plans helps readers better understand the real-world application of grading principles in different situations. Site grading is a complicated topic with plenty of on-site variables, but Grading with Design in Mind breaks it down into clear, concise instruction with value to both professionals and students in the field of landscape design.


Bruce Sharky, FASLA, is a Professor of Landscape Architecture at the Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture at Louisiana State University. He served as Principal Landscape Architect for wildlife habitat and landscape restoration for the 860-mile Trans-Alaskan Oil Pipeline, and his Master's thesis at the University of California, Berkeley, was the basis for legislation that established the California Coastal Commission. Bruce's current focus is on informing design through culture and environment, and non-structural approaches to planning natural disaster-resilient communities.


Preface xi

1 Some Background on the Subject of Site Grading

Site Grading Informs Design 1

Let’s Begin 3

The Importance of Grading in Design 4

A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words 6

Gaining an Essential Grasp of Site-Grading Concepts 7

What the Student Needs to Know about Site Grading 9

Professional Relationships 12

The Basic Structural Approach to This Book 13

2 Site Grading and the Legal Requirements

What Is Site Grading?   15

Avoiding Grading Problems in the Landscape 18

Encounters in the Field of Grading: Problems That Could Have Been Avoided  19

Site Grading in the Professional Practice of Landscape Architecture  21

Professional Registration to Practice Landscape Architecture  22

3 Site Planning and Grading Process

Introduction 27

The Design Process  28

Steps in the Design Process Continuum 28

Step 1. Background Research 28

Step 2. Site Analysis   30

Step 3. Program Analysis 36

Step 4. Land Use and Circulation Diagram 38

Step 5. Schematic Site Design  40

Step 6. Schematic Design Grading Plan 42

Preliminary Site Grading Plan  45

Design Development and Subsequent Phases in the Design Continuum 47

4 Drawing Conventions

Drawing Conventions: Landscape Drawings and Music Scores  49

Drafting and Representation  51

The Concept of Documentation Conventions in Music and Design   52

Following Drawing Conventions Prevents Miscommunication   56

Construction Documentation  57

Another Word about Scale 58

5 What Is Scale, Why Is It Important, and How Is It Used?

Scale: A Word of Several Meanings 61

The Need for Scaled Drawings  63

Site Grading Is Integral to the Phases of Design 64

Using and Choosing the Right Scale 65

Reference Plan and Match Lines  66

Architect’s and Engineer’s Scales 68

Topographic Maps Are Useful Preplanning Tools 69

Map Scales and Contour Intervals 72

Recognizing Landform Patterns  73

The Information Contained in Topographic Maps 74

U.S. Geological Survey and Scales of Other Countries   75

6 Where Are You?

The Language of Maps   77

How to Find and Locate Places in the Landscape, or: Where Am I?  78

Maps Serve a Variety of Purposes 82

Coordinate Systems  82

Latitude and Longitude: A Geographic Coordinate System   82

Referencing System for a Land Parcel 86

Licensed Land Surveyor   87

Locating a Building or Other Element on the Ground 88

7 Contours

Introduction 91

Reading the Landscape   92

Contour Lines: A Language for Two Dimensions 93

What the Landscape Would Look Like with Contours   94

Contours Explained   100

Slope in Plan and Section 104

8 Signature Landforms

Landform Signatures   109

Watershed Landform Signature 112

Putting It All Together   116

9 Calculating Slope and Other Grading Calculations: Tools for Gaining Mastery in Grading

Introducing Calculation of Slope 120

A Few Slope Conventions 122

Slope Equation: Primary Tool for Most Calculations Required in Grading 124

10 How to Calculate Spot Elevations

Introduction 139

When Are Spot Elevations Needed? 139

Where Spot Elevations Are Necessary 142

Overview for the Grading Conditions Discussion 150

How Spot Elevations Are Used by Contractors 151

How to Calculate a Spot Elevation 151

The Steps for Establishing Spot Elevations on a Sloping Surface 154

Using the Riser Height of Steps to Calculate Spot Elevations  156

Use of Spot Elevations in Grading Plans 156

Coordination of Spot Elevations with Other Elevation Conventions  157

How a Contractor Uses Spot Elevations Shown on a Grading Plan  159

From Schematic Design Plan to Grading Plan 160

11 Working with Contours: Creating Landforms with Design in Mind

Creating Landscapes Using Contours 164

Getting from the Site and the Design to Grading the Site 166

Contours Used to Show Landform 169

Creating Landforms for Programmed Uses 170

Contours Used to Show Surface Drainage 174

Paved Surfaces Water Flow 178

How to Create a Level Area on Sloping Ground 180

12 Signature Solutions

Introduction 185

Signature Grading Solutions  186

Creating a Simple Slope 186

Creating a Level Area on Sloping Ground 188

Signature Solution: Creating a Sloping Surface 189

Creating a Swale around a Level Surface to Direct Surface Water Flow Away from a Building or Activity Area   192

Creating a Drainage Swale 195

Creating a Watershed to Collect Surface Water 198

Catch Basin Design in Paved Area 199

Creating a Sculpted Landform  200

Creating a Detention Pond or Depression 203

Site-Grading Concepts for a Simple Residential Lot 204

Three Initial Site-Grading Strategies 204

Use of Spot Elevations and Contour Grading for a Tennis Court or Other Large Court-Game Surface   206

13 Detailed Grading with Slopes, Contours, and Spot Elevations

Introduction 211

Grading of Paved Surfaces: Walks and Ramps 212

Design Process for Grading a Pedestrian Ramp 213

Design Process for Grading a Bicycle Trail and Park Walkway  215

Integration of Walkway, Steps, and Seating Area 217

Grading Design Where Paved Area Meets Building Entrance Accessible by Stairs 218

Parking Lot Grading Design 218

Site-Grading Design in Lawn Area 222

Sculptural Landform Solutions in Lawn or Landscaped Areas  223

Some Final Examples of Using Spot Elevations and Contours in Site-Grading Design 225

Construction Sequence for a Bus Shelter 227

14 Storm and Surface Water Drainage Management

Introduction 231

Traditional Handling of Surface Storm Water 235

Contour Grading  236

Design Options for Handling Storm Water 239

Catch Basins 239

Canals and Swales   244

Roadside Drainage Swale 245

Aquifer Recharge  246

Retention Ponds  248

Water Detention Swale 250

Rain Garden and Related Water Storage or Absorption Strategies  253

Town Planning That Incorporates Sustainable Storm Water Management 255

15 Estimating Volume of Cut and Fill Using Contour Method

Cut and Fill Is the Process of Earth Moving. 257

Introduction to Estimating Earth-Moving Quantities   259

Contour Method for Estimating Cut and Fill 261

Other Methods of Estimating Earthwork Volumes 265

16 Professional Example of Site Grading by Design

Introduction 267

References 297

Index 298