This is our updated, revised site analysis guide for architecture. You can download this as a handy pdf by clicking the link below.
Prior to starting any design, your client will want to know whether construction on the site is viable. Carrying out an extensive site analysis will assess wether development is financially feasible, and establish parameters to implement the best design that responds to the physical and environmental features of the site.
Before you visit the site, there is a lot of information you can gain from a desktop study. By carrying out thorough research prior to your visit to site, you will arrive well informed, and possibly have identified specific things that you want to check or look out for on your site visit.
Part 1 – Desktop Study
Prior to your site visit it may be necessary to obtain an OS map of the site. From this, and from client information you can clarify the location of site boundaries.
Things to look into before you go to site:
- Geological maps to discover predominant type of soil or rock on the site.
- Rights of way, rights of access, Town and Country Planning restrictions, is the site in a green belt?
- History of the site – anything you can use to inform your design. Any tunnels, disused mines, archaeological interests under the site could curtail development.
- Historical use of the site – could industrial processes have contaminated the land?
- If the site sits in a conservation area or close to listed buildings you may need to go into more detail regarding cultural significance, historic significance, etc.
- Developmental controls – is the site subject to any specific planning controls, building control or health and safety?
- Determine whether water, electricity, gas, telephone, sewerage and other services are connected to the land.
- Climate conditions of the site/area.
- Sun path and angles.
- Aerial photographs and maps (google and bing have really useful and quite different aerial
images). Historical maps can also be interesting.
- Are there any trees on the site? Do they have Tree Preservation Orders on them?
- Is the area susceptible to flooding, is it considered a flood risk area?
Some information is not freely available, but a client or their legal representative should be able to clarify any issues regarding rights of way, rights of light, legal easements and any rights of tenants.
There are many more things to look at, and each site is very different, but hopefully this will give you a starting point for getting the best out of your site visit.
Part 2 – Visiting The Site
What to take with you
Depending on the project you will want to consider taking the following items with you when you go to look at a potential site, or proposed site for your design project. It is likely you will require PPE (personal protection equipment) so make sure you have all the necessary items before heading to site.
- Camera – essential. Make sure you take pictures of everything. Also, make sure you get some shots of the site from a distance so you can use these in your final images, cgi’s and so on. Also take pictures of what is opposite the site, so you can use these as reflections in windows of your design. It is so frustrating when you go to the trouble of visiting a site and come back wishing you had taken more pictures.
- Smart phone. If you have any apps that assist with taking panoramic pictures, take a few of these too. You can do some interesting stuff when you get to later design stages if you have a few panoramics to play with.
- Note book. Really important to be able to jot down any observations.
- Tape measure. Some sites may be close to hazards or situations where you will need to measure the proximity. If you have one, a disto, or laser measure could also come in handy, but not essential. I use this disto.
- Good weather! If you have a choice of when to visit the site try to pick a day when there is a bit of blue sky around. It will look better for your site photos, particularly if you are planning on using them in future presentations.
What to look out for
Site and surroundings
- Site location details (road names, address, major landmarks etc)
- Current context – existing buildings, car parking, roads.
- Access to the site – car parking, bus routes, train stations, cycle routes, pedestrian walkways.
- Access to site for construction – will there be any obstacles or restrictions that could affect the construction process?
- Orientation of the site.
- Accessibility – current provisions of disabled access to the site and how will this need to be considered.
- Circulation – how do visitors/pedestrians/traffic to or near the site flow around or within it.
- Vegetation – landscaping, greenery, shrubs and trees, open spaces.
- Views – where are the best views to and from the site. Which is the most likely feature aspect?
- Building context – what style, period, state of repair are the surrounding buildings? It is a historical/heritage/conservation area? Will your design need to reflect the existing style?
- Is the site close to listed buildings?
- Surfaces and materials around the site.
- Site levels. How will this affect your design process? How does the site drainage work, would there be any potential problems with drainage?
- Weather – how does the weather affect the site? Is it well shaded, exposed?
- Noise, odour and pollution – is the site in a particularly noisy area? Or near industrial buildings
that produce levels of pollution. Is it near a facility that creates smoke?
- Are there existing buildings on the site – what is their state of repair? Is there any sign of subsidence or settlement damage?
Take some time to walk around the site as much as possible. Take note of the general topography of the site, and any significant changes in level. Also note any indications of what is underneath the surface, for example, any marsh grasses could suggest that there is a high water table, if the soil is sticky it could indicate the subsoil on the site is clay. If there is any rubble on the site, it could suggest there has been previous development, or possibly landfill on the land.
- Electricity lines
- Telephone lines
Some of these hazards, and many others would be difficult to know without professional surveys being carried out but demonstrate that you have considered the hazards that could be on or around the site.
Part 3 – Evaluating Your Site Visit
So you have collected all this information and taken a shed load of photos, now you’ve got to evaluate this information and consider the implications to your design process. As well as considering all the points below you also have to integrate the requirements of the brief. You are slowly putting together the pieces of the puzzle in order to come up with a great design.
When looking at your site and considering your design think about the following:
- Street patterns
- Street section
- Scale and the hierarchy/form/space
- Land use
- Neighbourhood relationships, formal street variation
- Perspective relationships, views
- Edge conditions, surfaces and materials
- Natural and man made
- Movement and circulation within and around the site
- Vehicle vs. pedestrian
- Public space vs. private space
- Open space
- Climate – sun angles and sun shadows
- Negative and positive spaces – we move through negative spaces and dwell in positive spaces
- Scale and proportion
- Regulating lines
- Light quality
- Rhythm and repetition
- Space/void relationship
Part 4 – Presenting your Site Analysis
- Give an overview of the site and the information you have found.
- Show some of the key photographs of the site.
- Give more detail about the elements of your site analysis that you feel will be important in your design process.
- Make sure you include images. There are various ways you can do this:
- Sketches from site
- Photographs from site
- Annotated photographs
- Present any relevant data found (climate, sun paths etc). Keep data clear and concise, don’t bore everyone with complicated graphs and tables. Instead, make your own chart or table that picks out the important information.
- Present your sun paths and angles as some sort of annotated drawing. Sketchup can be a useful way of presenting sun path drawings.
- Depending on what has been asked of you, sometimes it is useful to present a couple of overlay drawings showing some initial ideas you have worked on. This will demonstrate your understanding of the site.