Designing Grading Plans on the Edge of Sanity
For some reason multiple grading plans that we were waiting for over the last 6 months to a year have all become ready to start. This is not a bad problem to have. But each of these jobs is complicated in respect to the Drainage Design, Driveway Design, SUSMP Design, LID Design, Hillside Grading Design, or even all of the combined.
So here I am this morning meeting a client for a new job that has been six years in the making. Only to come back to the office to make a four way conference call on another project that is going for a rush submittal. Nothing wrong with rush projects as we can handle whatever we are given. The hard part about some of these rush projects is that not everyone is 100% ready with their plans. Thankfully in this case the Architect has done a good thorough design with enough detail to make our grading plans easier to work on. But there is one slight hitch. The driveway design to make it into the proposed basement garages is an issue.
Originally I designed the driveway using a 20% max grade which barely worked. Only to be told by the City Engineer that they will only allow a 15% max grade. I could have sworn we had another project in the City of Redondo Beach get approved with a 20% max grade. I am probably imagining things. So onto how to design this driveway with a 15% max grade. I make my way down the driveway starting from the street’s flowline until I hit the corner of the basement. This doesn’t look good. Not enough grade to hit the target elevation.
So onto the conference call we go. Talking over the phone with the client and Architect we come up with an idea. Possibly raise one of the garage basements while allowing me to make part of the driveway as narrow as possible, 11′. After a couple of iterations I have come up with something that works on paper using max grades, max cross-slopes, and nearly max grade breaks. Technically the site works now. I even threw in the idea of now raising the garage so the water will flow away from one of the buildings so there is one less trench drain to install. Some money saved in the process. As I am staring on this project I am thinking is this something that is driveable. That is the next step in these grading plans. Because as I will say over and over driveability is key to our grading plans.
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Elegant Designed Grading Plan
I like to think of grading plans as part engineering, part work of art. Not only do Civil Engineers design a grading plan based on local municipal codes, but Civil Engineers also design works of art.
The first part is getting the survey and the Architect’s siteplan. The architect has already had a good idea of how to design the property based on the survey’s shot elevations and contours of the site. This is an approximation of what is to come. Making a site work to what can be built in real life is important for very obvious reasons. I learned early on that there is an important to being able to see in three dimensions while looking at a plan in 2D. Why is this important? Because the site is designed from a plan view while adhering to the real life topography in 3D. Other aspects of Civil Engineering incorporate a more fundamental to designing to what is given and that’s it. Such as a retaining wall. We are given the specs to use by the soils report, and then calculate the wall to work in those parameters based on the soils report and a grading plan. There isn’t much more to this besides the options of different styles of retaining walls to try to reduce building costs. But if an architect says lets go design this building, the structural plans are going to in one way or another make that building work. That is the goal of the engineer, to solve a problem and create a solution. But sometimes there always isn’t a solution whether the problem is based on cost or other practicalities.
So this brings me to grading. I am a huge car guy. I can look at a car all day long, the curves, the stance, the engine. A car is part artwork and part engineering. What does that mean? A car’s basic idea is to get from point A to point B. So the engineers come up with something to make that car do that simple task. But no one wants to buy an ugly looking object to get from different points. In comes the art. The artists style that object to make something beautiful to drive around. Next in would come some engineering to make sure the task can be accomplished under this more beautiful object. Does this sound like I am about to do a proof? Yes. This all equals, that the car will sell when the car can be sold both as being great to look at while functioning for the intended purpose. So how does this relate to grading?
A grading plan needs to function. The function of directing water off of the site is the main idea. As well as the grading plan is intended to sculpt the land to make the property get that water off the site while allowing some type of structure to sit on that site. Whether the site is a parking lot, house, chain store, or dirt lot. Why art involved in this problem that needs a solution? Because no one wants to look at something ugly while they are parked, living, or shopping on that site.
So where does that leave me this week? I have been working a lot on a grading plan that I am trying to make as elegant as possible. The site is large and sits in the City of Los Angeles. A single family residence will be getting a huge renovation and additions. Now why is this difficult? The back lot has a large slope. The front of the lot sits under the street. On this particular project we must incorporate designs including hillside grading along with a pump for the entire project. Not only that but the Architect envisions trying to use as much of the lot as possible to create different areas. A nice new driveway that has two entrances compared to the original single entrance. A backyard instead of just a pool and a lot of trees and landscaping will be fully utilized with a new pool/spa and more lawn area for entertainment. Not to mention another problem. A wall that was built on their property that is failing by the neighbor.
An elegantly designed grading plan will incorporate as much of the Architect’s intentions as well as making sure the grading can be built. The grading will also be able to get that water off the site with in a few different scenarios in case one off the drain systems clog. The grading will also make sure that when someone is running around the pool that there are enough drains to make sure that no one slips and falls because water is pooling up everywhere. The elegance off this design is that the pipe system will also be as minimum as possible along with the grading of the hillside to have the least amount of changes to the existing hillside as possible. All this while maintaining as much of the existing backyard and earth. And of course to make sure that all of this coincides with the spirit of the Architect’s ideas.
The example above shows a new retaining wall proposed to hold up the existing failing retaining wall. The slope below the proposed retaining wall will be gentle to lead to the proposed lawn and pool areas. The scope of the project is complicated in making sure we tie everything together. This plan is as elegant as I have ever designed. Here at B+W Engineering we take pride in our work. Not only will you get as close as possible to what you are wanting, but the project will be buildable in real life. Every single project that comes out of our office is something that we are proud of whether we are the Civil Engineers or the home owners..
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Rendering of an Excavation Plan for a Project in Glendale
As we get closer to submitting plans for the Mixed-Use project on California and Central in Glendale, I am running the earthwork cut and fill numbers based off the excavation plans B+W Engineering drew up.
An excavation plan shows how the builder will dig out the ground to build the foundation. This particular mixed-use project has two levels of underground parking. So it will be obvious there will be a lot of dirt coming out of this lot. I have had to build many 3D models over the years to get estimated earthwork quantities. In doing so the existing ground needs to be modeled along with the proposed surface. This can be done by hand by just use a planimeter. Using a planimeter seems more fun as I learned to do this by redrawing the existing and proposed contours in colors and get the volumes using a calculator and spreadsheet. The maps always turn out to look really nice as there is just all this color showing the before and after topography. Most of the time this method is faster. But I would end up having to plot the plans and use up multiple colored pencils. Surely using the computer to get the earthwork volumes should be more eco-friendly. Less tress to kill. Shhh, don’t mention electricity.
So that leaves me with building the model on the computer. The existing and proposed surfaces are drawn in and modeled. That information is then taken into an access database where the computer crunches some numbers, and wallah cut and fill, or earthwork volume quantities. I most likely made that sound much easier than it really is. But that’s the basic overall scope. The great thing about doing this is that it will catch any errors, or busts, on the survey or Civil Engineering plans. This becomes more obvious when modeling something more flat and not just a big hole in the ground. I can take either existing or proposed surface and analyze the data to see if anything went wrong. Generally everything is fine and more often the model is the issue and not any of the plans. User error can show up because it becomes very tedious to get the models just right. Lots of drawing lines connecting existing linework and typing in numbers.
This particular job I didn’t model tight enough to the bottom of the ramp’s landing, so the rendered model gave a few rough looking spots. Easy enough to fix and as you can see from my crude rendering above this site now looks like a big hole in the ground waiting for some big construction toys to have fun.
The above is a rendering of the existing surface. Nothing really to see here as the site is a vacant dirt lot with a little pile of dirt in the corner.
In the end it’s good to show current and future clients or whoever else is stumbling through our blog what we do in the background while we are getting plans ready to submit. If someone wanted to they could take our models and overlay a siteplan to them and make a pretty nice rendering for a client. I have considered B+W Engineering doing this, but I don’t see anyone wanting that service just yet. Just another day in what we do as a Civil Engineering firm in Los Angeles.
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Mini Glendale Building Boom
I normally drive around Glendale at nighttime so all of the construction activity is not as obvious when the big kids construction toys are put away at night. I went to Portos Bakery today for lunch, and couldn’t believe just how much construction is going on at the same time around the Americana and Glendale Galleria area.
I started off making a trip to Vons on San Fernando and saw the excavation for a project called Camden Glendale going full steam ahead. The site currently has the second level of underground parking being built. The entire site is fenced off and shored with one construction entrance.
After picking up some groceries I headed back up Central to get some yummy Cuban food from Portos. This is where it gets crazy. Central from the Glendale Galleria and Americana all the way up to the 134 Freeway is getting new sidewalks, curb, gutter and eventually a new top to the street. From the looks of it, Central may be getting a concrete topping and not the typical asphalt concrete topping. To add to the madness of the whole street being worked on it seems like all at once, the Americana at Brand and Glendale Galleria both are under construction. There is a new Nordstroms going into what used to be a motel that butted up against the Americana. And the Glendale Galleria is having major renovations being done to keep and attract new business, such as a new Bloomingdales. Not only is the mall getting a new anchor store, but the entire interior of the Galleria is getting a revamp to freshen up the dreary mall.
If all of this wasn’t enough I made my way to the parking lot at Portos on Orange and the 2 new buildings going up around there are near completion, Legendary Towers and Lex on Orange. The picture is of Lex on Orange. It seems as if the project called Isis on Colorado that has people already moving in, paved the way for the mini building boom in Glendale. I already knew from all the cranes and construction equipment along Central that I would have to take a few pictures. Too bad I didn’t have my camera instead of the little camera phone. But I will save that for later when I take pictures of the existing part of the job we are currently providing the Grading Plans for on Central and California that should start construction before the end of the year. Time to document the 10+ large projects going up all at the same time in the City of Glendale.
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Parking Lot, Swales, and Drainage Driveability
I like to drive around and look at how different designs work on different projects. Driving a parking lot designed by someone else can give great incite to what we can possibly change or do better on our Civil Engineering designs than what is already out there.
I am not sure who the original designer was for this particular parking lot located in the City of Pasadena on Arroyo, and we had nothing to do with this project. While waiting to get some Hawaiin Food from L & L Hawaiin Barbecue, I decided to walk around the parking lot taking notice of where the swales were routed and take some pictures that were more interesting to what I was looking for. We at B+W Engineering like to design a parking lot with driveability in mind. That means not having a low car scraping anything or bumps and humps all over the place making the car’s suspension work overtime. We do so much design for custom houses that exotic cars always come into mind. And since we live in Southern California, with its car culture, these exotics most likely will travel into any random business. Driveability also means that walking around the parking lot should be easy to do.
The first picture shows the swale that leads from the trashcan area which is one of the highpoints on the property. This is pretty typical, though I would prefer to slope the whole area towards where this swale is routing to. That cuts down on building cost and doesn’t need to be there. What happens over time is that where the asphalt meets the concrete swale, over time starts to get damaged, which is happening here. Nothing wrong with this at all, but there is extra maintenance or just can look ugly faster. And like I mentioned more expensive to build this portion of concrete swale.
The next picture shows something that I really like. The way the swale is coming from another highpoint on the lot. As the water travels from the back of the property, the water goes into the parking spaces that have a swale running through where the car is parked. To outlet from that area the swale goes right through the curb and landscaping. This helps keep the site lower which means less fill in most cases. Otherwise the swale would have most likely been placed between the parking stalls and the back of property line adding more linear feet of swale. So less earthwork fill and less swale means cheaper cost to build. This isn’t always possible to implement depending on the site layout, but works very well on this particular site.
This picture shows how the swale from the trashcan area connects with the swale from the parking stalls. As I mentioned the swale coming from the trashcan area could have been eliminated to have all of the water flow graded directly at the curbface that is painted red. On a plan this looks more elegant. But driveability is more key to me, and this means cars have to cross the swale. Just a little touch we like to do is have as little crossing of cars over the swale whenever possible. Once again nothing wrong with this design as it works well.
Here we have a picture of the other lower point of the parking stalls against the front of the property along Arroyo. The drainage concept for this project was to put a swale at the front of the parking stalls which works well. This also can give a natural place for a car to rest if the parking brake isn’t set and the car rolls forward. This also cuts down on that thing I mentioned above about crossing swales while driving through a parking lot. I like this type of design when it can be implemented.
This is where all of the drainage gets tied together from the entire site to outlet to the street. I do not particularly like this as driving feels odd over this as someone is either exiting or entering the property. The good thing is that the swales aren’t deep which isn’t as bad as some other parking lots I have driven on. I drive a Honda S2000, a small 2 seater roadster, which I can feel some of the imperfections more than say an SUV. Always in the back of my mind I am thinking can a Ferrari, Lamborghini or other exotic drive what we design easily?
This picture shows the end of the drainage pattern for the parking lot. I don’t see this too often and with Pasadena’s newer more strict SUSMP requirements this can’t be built anymore. I don’t see any filter devices for the stormwater from the asphalt whatsoever. So most of the property is draining dirty water into the street which goes to the storm drain system directly into the ocean. Filtering the water using fossil filters is a minimum standard before any water exits a commercial lot. Newer codes are requiring tanks that take the first 3/4″ storm and infiltrate the ground underneath the parking lot to help from over utilizing the storm drain system, and also recharging the earth underneath the property.
The other part that I do not like about this design is the trip hazard this produces. Not only would this be easy to fall into, but worse is that this is sitting up against the sidewalk and almost feels like its part of the sidewalk. Also looking from the picture debris can easily clog this outlet.
The pictures to the left shows how we normally place a trench drain along the parking entrance width and pipe the trench drain out with a rectangular pipe through the curbface. Inside the trench drain is the fossil filter cleaning the stormwater. If this was to clog or overflow the stormwater will take the natural path right over the driveway preventing the property from flooding or pooling up anywhere.
I like to drive around to see what we can pick and choose from existing projects to use on our plans. I also like to drive around the lot to see how a car feels through the property. This ends up helping us come up with better designs, especially with the newer SUSMP/LID requirements that make some designs very hard to work with what we are trying to accomplish. Our Civil Engineered Grading Plans still look elegant on paper but the better part is that the finished design can be that much better for everyone visiting the location. Stormwater drainage is very important and there is a lot of thought put into what we think is the best design for our clients.
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