loule hills

Topography time! What is topography and why do you need it?

Topography, what is it and why you need it?

After the official purchase of the plot was completed with the help of a local lawyer, we needed to complete a topography study to determine the layout of the land. A topographer is a professional who studies and maps the arrangement of the natural and artificial physical features of an area. The house design cannot begin until you have information relating to the plot size, elevation, existing trees, boundaries, access etc.

We purchased the land with an estimated area of 5500 square meters. The risk when buying the land before the topography study has taken place is that you may not actually have the amount of land that you have paid for. For us, there was a big surprise when the study was delivered to us, we actually had 7300 square meters so we were ecstatic!

What Is A Topographic Land Survey?

While the standard land survey deals primarily with marking out the boundaries of a parcel of land, a topographic survey is primarily concerned with noting the natural and man made features on the land itself. These may include hills, ravines, streams, trees, fences, buildings, and other improvements over the natural state of the land. A topographic survey shows the location, size, and height of these types of improvements, as well as gradual changes or contours in elevation. 

Unlike boundary or residential land surveys, a topographic land survey focuses more on elevation than on horizontal measurements. Most of these measurements are taken either with a surveying-quality GPS unit, or with an electronic EDM instrument. The results of the topographic survey are not marked using stakes or other landmarks, but are instead drawn as contour lines on a map of the land (topographic surveys are sometimes called contour surveys). Today, sophisticated computer programs allow for digital versions of these maps, as well as interactive elevation views of the land. The data may be used in CAD programs, where it can be manipulated by engineers or architects to demonstrate how the topography will change through planned improvements.

When Are Topographic Surveys Needed?

Topographic land surveys have many uses. Nearly all construction projects begin with a topographic land survey, which describes the starting point of the land before improvements are made. Engineers and architects use them as an aid in designing buildings or other improvements to be situated on the property, as existing features may influence their design or decisions on where structures can and cannot be placed on the property. Topographic surveys may also be used when creating plans for drainage ditches, grading or other features, using the natural landscape as the basis for such improvements. Government agencies may also require topographic surveys for any of a number of reasons—for example, as regulatory requirements for construction codes, or as part of environmental restoration projects.

Topographic land surveys are also useful when a parcel of land that was previously in use is being redeveloped—for example, an abandoned quarry or landfill, a site where a building was demolished, or on a site where the topographic data is changing. In these cases, a topographic survey provides an accurate view of how the land has been changed by its use, allowing for better planning for future use.

Buying silence

When we started our home build journey, we stated that we wanted a small house on a small plot. Having viewed many plots and houses, we soon realized that a generous or large plot provides both privacy and silence (well almost). Our last family home in England was very large with 22 rooms, two garages and a very large garden. Maintenance was a big issue both in terms of time and expense, so this new home must be low maintenance and as passive as possible. We moved from the large house to a small terraced house to free up some money to purchase the building plot. Living in a small house has been a revelation! Less work – once we completely renovated it inside and out in just a few weeks, but…and this is a BIG BUT, we discovered that a small house on a small plot means zero privacy and no avoidance of noisy neighbors.

So how did we end up with such a big plot? We fell in love with the location, tranquility, accessibility, carob trees, oregano, fireflies, birds, the wild nature of the land, lack of light pollution, sea view, its proximity to Loulé town and it’s market and shops…. to name just a few reasons why we blew the budget and reversed our decision on plot size.

Teamwork and trust

The topography study was carried out in partnership with the Architect who oversaw all the arrangements and organized payment on our behalf. Having an architect you trust is of course of the utmost importance. The selection of an architect was my greatest concern when I set off on my home build journey, but we found an outstanding team that we have been able to trust with hundreds of thousands of euros of our life savings. If you are considering a new build project in the Loulé area, please drop me a line and I would be happy to answer questions and to refer you to the amazing team we are working with.

The topography study was completed on time and under budget, which was a great result. The topographer was recommended by the architect as they have worked together many times in the past. The results of the typography study arrived in my inbox, and a visit in person to the plot with the architect was quickly arranged. We paced the plot, walked the boundaries, inspected the access, checked every aspect of the land against the drawings and stood in the ‘kitchen’ and dreamed of warm evenings spent drinking white port and tonic on the terrace watching the sun set.

Design and build limits

There are limits with the plot that we purchased:

  • We can only build a single story homewhich is perfect for us as that met with our original idea for one level living.
  • We cannot build a home more than 300 square metersthis is not a problem for us as we are looking for a compact, minimalist house with large outdoor living areas. Our current design is less than 260 square meters so there will be an opportunity to perhaps extend (on the same level) in the future.
  • We must incorporate the existing ruin in the design. This could have been a huge problem due to the angle and size of the ruin, but our architect has used the old building for the master suite, incorporating a family bathroom and separate out door shower with patio area.

The beginning of the design phase

So now the design phase could begin. Pinterest boards were built and shared with ideas whizzing around at speed. The next post will show the design we have settled on prior to submission to planning. Check back soon for an update.

If you are looking for a Topographer or a Lawyer I would be happy to share my contacts. Just drop me a line via my contact page or give me a call.





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