Desktop Study Architecture – How To Conduct and Use Desktop Research To Its Full Advantage.

Whilst making you aware of the location you are about to visit, a site analysis desktop study will also help to highlight the key and most important areas that...
Site Analysis Desktop Study

Once engaged in a new project one of the first things you’ll want to organize will be an initial visit to the proposed site. However in most cases this is unlikely to happen instantly, and so in the meantime it can be extremely beneficial to carry out a site analysis desktop study prior to going.

…But what is a desktop study?

This involves the analysis of secondary information and research taken from maps, internet searches and literature, and using them to study the relationship (separately and between) the immediate and extended contexts of your site prior to your visit.

…this is typically carried out whilst sat at a desk and so hence the name …a (site analysis) “desktop study”.

Whilst making you aware of the location you are about to visit, a site analysis desktop study will also help to highlight the key and most important areas that will need further physical study once there. This will enable you to get more out of your visit, and be particularly useful if it is difficult to visit the site more than once, or your project is time sensitive.

When looking at the areas of the site and the surrounding context that needs to be recorded as highlighted here (in Architecture Site Analysis – An Introduction) a desktop study will be able to determine some of them before your visit. Enabling you to be more efficient and therefore spend time on the elements that can only be physically assessed.

Desktop Study Architecture

There will however be elements of the site analysis such as historical research and map data that will only be available through a desktop study via search engines and digital maps, and so it only benefits to do this before visiting. 

…further preparing for and helping to structure your visit and outline what exactly to look for.

What to look for… Maps for site analysis

An excellent starting point is to locate the sites geo-location by typing the site address into Google or Bing maps and through this you can then initially identify:

  • Orientation
  • plot size
  • Context (urban or rural)
  • Topography
  • Building density
  • Vegetation
  • Access
Desktop Study Architecture

Through this simple level of research you may subconsciously start to lay the foundation for concept development and even begin to generate a simple architectural design in response to your findings prior to visiting.

The benefit to this early leap into the design process is that you will be able to physically test the idea on site, which may also lead to identifying further areas and aspects of the site to analyse.

What to look for… OS map and topographical survey

Following this and as mentioned here, the next step should be to obtain an OS map and topographical survey (if available) of the site in PDF and DWG format, most universities, colleges and architectural practices have accounts with companies who readily supply them.

You should print a few copies in readiness for your visit, and start to annotate at least one of them with the above information highlighting known features and to draw attention to the areas that will require further physical investigation. 

An OS map and/or topographical survey will give you:

  • A scaled location
  • precise site access (public and private)
  • Site levels (topographical survey only)
  • Ownership boundaries
  • Site area
  • Site features
  • Surrounding context
  • Sizes of existing buildings
  • Orientation (further clarification)
  • Vegetation size and precise location
  • Surrounding highway and footpath locations
Desktop Study Architecture
Styles and blocks for Topography layer

What to look for… Internet search and literature

The final stage of the architectural site analysis desktop study is to research the site through internet searches and literature, this should highlight:

  • Planning restrictions (via the local councils website to identify guidelines on size, height, density, and amount)
  • Planning guidelines (local plan and design guides)
  • Planning history
  • Legal restrictions (Green belt, Conservation areas, Listings, AONB, SSSI, Easements, Covenants)
  • Site history
  • Surrounding context history
  • Aerial and 3D photographs
  • Geological data
  • Flood data
  • Ecology data

To sum up…

Lastly and as mentioned, this all helps towards making your site visit (and project) as efficient as possible and will bring to light answers to questions that just wouldn’t be known without doing the research (the desktop study) beforehand. …its an invaluable process 

Use this Architecture site analysis infographic for quick reference:

If you are interested in trying our architecture site analysis symbols for your own site analysis recordings and presentation, then head over to our shop (Here).

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