Reading and Recording the Urban Environment

Here you will find guides and associated resources related to reading and recording buildings and urban spaces. Our guidance notes have been prepared to help persons with no previous, or only limited, experience of reading and recording buildings and urban spaces.

Reading Buildings

Visiting a site or building is an essential part of researching and recording towns and cities. Even if you already know the site or building well, it is always worth taking a fresh look.

Knowing how to look at – or ‘read’ – your urban landscape or building will help you choose how you want to record different elements in photographs, sketches and measured-survey drawings.

This guide provides some helpful tips as to how you can begin reading your urban environment. Download the PDF here 

How To: Survey Buildings

It's easy to miss the signs of history around us. Over time buildings are often re-purposed and their original age and usage forgotten. Surveying buildings and looking for clues can shed light on long forgotten history.

Recording Buildings

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.

Walking you through the process of graphically recording buildings and architectural detail, it describes traditional survey methods using instruments such as a plane table, alidade and tape measures. 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. Download the PDF here

If you want to see something in particular added to this guide, please contact us by emailing the team at

If you're looking for more information on recording buildings, we recommend reviewing the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists guidelines on buildings recording.

Sketching Buildings and Urban Spaces

Getting to know your site or building will be an essential part of your SUP project and sketching can help you achieve this.

Sketching aids observation and helps you reconsider familiar objects, buildings and streetscapes in a new way. Download our sketching PDF here.

Building Survey Form

Archaeologists record buildings in a specific way with key measurements and observations going towards their final description. However, it's not just about the facts and figures - they will also try to suggest what a building might have been and how it could have been used, otherwise known as an 'interpretation.'  

Based on forms used by professional archaeologists, this adapted building recording sheet has all your bases covered with handy prompts and tips in an easy to use format. Download the PDF here.

If you are working with schools and youth groups, you can also download an amended version of our survey form here.


How To: Community Mapping

Community mapping is the process of making a working map of locations that are significant to a group. It allows the capturing of memories and emotional memories to places that a traditional map does not. 

Personal Safety and Risk Assessments

Your health and safety while you are outdoors, investigating the history of Scotland’s towns and cities is very important. Visiting, surveying and recording buildings or sites have potential hazards associated with them.

Our personal safety guide outlines some of the potential hazards you may encounter while visiting and recording buildings or sites in Scotland, and how you can best avoid them. Download the Personal Safety guide here.

If you are aware that hazards exist, you can identify them and be less at risk. We ask that you produce a Risk Assessment before undertaking any site visit or other activity. Our Risk Assessment guide and form can be downloaded here.