A story in my home town newspaper caught my eye the other day, which made me think about one of the first lessons taught at Architecture School – namely the importance of good site analysis.
A project to provide an extension to a 13th Century church in Huntingdonshire was stopped when contractors discovered the graves of up to 120 people. The burials are thought to be more than 1000 years old, and now most of the money raised by parishioners will be used by the archaeologists, and to re-inter the remains.
Good site analysis allows the designer to improve the project, ensuring that the building makes the best use of the resources, such as light, access, views, on the site as possible. It should also allow the designer to anticipate any potential issues which may cause problems to the project.
At MEB Design Ltd we use a checklist of common items (including the possibility that there will be graves near churches) which is useful to reduce the chances of being surprised by anything when the job starts on site.
Away from churchyards, you may discover an underground stream, or contamination from a previous use. Alarmingly, there are around 100 documented unexploded WW2 bombs in the ground in London, and this figure does not include the 5000 items of other ordnance that are uncovered on British building sites in an average year.
Planning permission often comes with conditions relating to archaeology, to ensure that any important or interesting artefacts are recorded. Other conditions might demand that the project includes surveying the site for trees and wildlife (bats and reptiles usually), and will involve taking subsequent steps to preserve anything found.
You can never really know what you will find on a site until the contractor starts digging. However, early anticipation and investigation should mean that only the most extraordinary discoveries cause real problems to your project.
Stephen Moore, MEB Design Ltd (Kent Office)