On Land

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At Rill Architects we run ArchiCAD on Mac OS X. If you work at Rill, this is your stuff. If you don't, but you work in ArchiCAD, you may find something interesting. Anybody else, I don't know.
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If you have a DWG or DXF from the surveyor, drop it in the floor plan and trace it. (Such a drop creates a drawing element in the plan.) If you trace carefully, the shape will be as accurate as the DWG itself.

But, very often, instead of a DWG from a surveyor you have a plat or 'location survey' from the homeowners' closing documentation. Even if you scan it in, you can't accurately trace it because it doesn't have any real lines. Scan or no-scan, you need to manually create the boundary polygon using the metes and bounds on the plat as a guide.

1. Set the working units. Set the length unit to decimal feet and the angle unit to surveyors' unit [sic].

2. Line tool. Pick a line on the plat, any line. Start drawing. Type A, which highlights the 'a' field in the coordinate box. Enter the angle of the line, which is something like N 26º 14' 51" W. Omit the punctuation; it's just n 26 14 51 w. When you finish typing, don't strike enter. Hit Option+A, which looks the angle you just put in the A field. Type R, which highlights the R field. Enter the length of the line, the hit return to finish it.

Don't worry if the line looks funny. The surveyors' units follow the project north setting, so if you haven't set north yet the direction will seem rather random.

3. Draw the next line the same way, starting at the end of the first line. Pay attention to whether the line goes in the expected direction. If it doesn't, move it so its other end touches the first line.

Why? In surveyors' units, any vector can have two directions, depending on which way the guys went around the lot. Following their numbers will sometimes give you a line that looks crazy, but it's just 180º off.

Do all the lines this way and hook them up.

4. In the case of an arc, do it last. They usually give you the degrees and the radius. Using the circle geometry method of the arc tool, start drawing by clicking anywhere. Move straight to the right and type R followed by the arc radius. Hit return. Type A followed by the angle, then return. Drag and rotate this arc to fit the other segments. If you have multiple arcs ask for help.

5. When all the segments are connected, magic-wand a fill element onto the whole thing and trash the lines and arcs. A fill is good because it can report its area, which you will need for the project information. Line type: Property Dot-Dash. Layer: +C Site Line.E Pen: 45 or other 5-weight.

When the boundary is done, drag and rotate it to the proper place with respect to the project. Use the boundary to create the grade mesh.

Once you have the north direction set correctly, you can use the Survey Dim RND9 object to dimension the boundary for the site plan.

Don't forget to put your working units back.