An introduction to recording buildings

Our guidance notes have been prepared to help persons with no previous, or only limited, experience of recording buildings to undertake a basic survey of a building.

The following guidance notes have been prepared to help those with no previous, or only limited, experience in buildings recording to undertake a basic survey – either drawn or photographic – of any building type, regardless of complexity, size or age. The origin of the word ‘survey’ means to observe, and good observation is key to understanding and producing an accurate record of your chosen subject matter.

A record might consist of original or historic documents (for example architects’ plans), maps, a written description, photographs and sketches or measured drawings. As every record you create will be site-specific, there will inevitably be variations in what is included dependent on individual circumstances.

The end product may be a brief note with a sketch and photo or alternatively the work may become an in-depth study, with detailed drawings, descriptions and historical information brought together from a variety of sources. All this information can be entered into the on-line national database Canmore where it will join and complement other material produced or collected by RCAHMS since 1908.

This guide is intended to walk you through the process of graphically recording buildings and architectural detail, where appropriate to do so. It has been created in the context of the Scotland’s Urban Past project where the range of survey equipment available to participants is likely to be limited. It describes traditional survey methods using such instruments as plane table, alidade and tape measures. These items may be supplemented by some relatively inexpensive, optional items such as electronic hand-held distance meters and levels that use a visible red laser beam.

Although many of the examples used in this guide are of predominantly 18th and 19th century remains, the same techniques can be used to record all types of buildings and sites.