Architecture Site Analysis - An Introduction

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Architectural site analysis, is the process of evaluating a particular locations physical, mental and social characteristics with the ambition of developing an architectural solution that will both address and enhance its internal and external context.

"To develop a project of any merit, its site must first be measured"

Every site is unique and will consist of many complex elements such as: varying topography, watercourses, trees, plants, habitats, and weather patterns to name a few. All of which will and should influence an architect’s design process and decision-making.

The appropriate analysis of these elements will initially help determine the buildings placement, orientation, form and materiality, but then later go on to influence its structure, sustainability and procurement route.

...providing a very vital foundation and crucial starting point for any architectural project.

What to look for

Referred and referenced to throughout the design and construction process, the below list highlights some of the key areas that should be investigated, along with examples of how site analysis recordings can be presented:

01 - General

  • Geographic location

  • Site boundary

  • Entrance locations and types

  • Site security

  • Existing buildings

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02 - Neighbouring buildings

  • Distances

  • Heights

  • Uses

  • Vernacular

  • Site lines

  • Rights to light

  • Legal restrictions

  • Noise levels

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03 - Legal Restrictions

  • Conservation areas

  • Covenants and easements

  • Rights of way

  • SSSI ( Site of Special Scientific Interest)

  • Listings (Grade II, II*, I)

  • TPO's (Tree preservation orders)

  • Previous planning permissions and applications

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04 - Access

  • Public routes

  • Private routes

  • Vehicle access

  • Pedestrian access

  • Existing circulation routes within

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05 - Typography  

  • Levels

  • Gradients

  • Key features/restrictions

  • Exposure

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06 - Views

  • Private views out

  • Public views in

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07 - Sun paths

  • Sun paths

  • Solar gains

  • Shading

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08 - Wind patterns

  • Prevailing direction

  • Shelter

  • Exposure

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09 - Public Transport Links

  • Bus's

  • Train's

  • Taxi's

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010 - Trees and vegetation

  • TPO's and protected species

  • Root protection areas

  • Items for removal

  • Items to maintain

  • Ownerships

Architectural Site Analysis Diagram Trees and Vegetation 10.jpg

011 - Ecology

  • Protected species

  • Protected zones

  • Impacts

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012 - Site restrictions

  • Visibility

  • Light

  • Views

  • Neighbours

  • Pollution

  • Flooding

  • Land slides

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013 - Features

  • Areas to expose/use

  • Areas to improve

  • Areas to hide

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014 - Hazards

  • (Electricity lines, Drainage, Telephone lines, Sub-stations)

  • Derelict Buildings

  • Unfinished building works

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Why is site analysis important?

As already touched on, a projects success is built on its relationship to its site and surroundings, and therefore by default should always be bespoke to and based on its location and local characteristics.

Every site has very specific solar orientations, views (good and bad) and often a very explicit character and atmosphere. Each one of these areas is an opportunity to generate a meaningful conceptual approach and a way to devise a buildings shape, layout, form and materiality.

Once established, further analyse of access, wind direction, site levels, vegetation, local context, privacy, services (electrical lines, drainage, telephone lines) will help cement any early conclusions made.

…This is the purpose of site analysis, and why it more than simply ticking boxes to meet a criteria, everything needs to relate back to the foundations established early on during the investigatory period. So that when required it can help provide the answers to future questions.

“Good design is generated from strong, simple and well-established concepts.”

How can site analysis be used...

When considering local weather patterns, the aim should be to always provide a building with the best possible access to solar gains, daylight and shelter. This can be achieved through calculated control of the effects of the sun, wind and rainfall, through good positioning of openings and rooflines to provide natural light, warmth and shelter throughout the year.

To cool a building, its orientation can pull and circulate cool summer air though its plan by aligning its long axis with the prevailing wind direction and by providing deep over hangs for shade. During the winter months, its built volumes can provide shelter and create protected external spaces via courtyards.

When using the context to influence materiality, look towards the local vernacular of the surrounding buildings. For example, dry stonewalls and corten steel can be used as a modern interpretation of agricultural buildings without mimicking.

Rammed earth walls can be used to represent an extension of the site and if the local soil type is right could even be built from the land.

Weathering timber creates a nice narrative of changing and growing old with a site.

When the site has prominent views, buildings can address the landscape with large framed apertures and pick key views and features to specifically draw attention to. Moving between rooms can generate different views and therefore experiences at different times of day, depending on how and when the spaces are used.

These ideas are site specific and only have meaning through being relevant, and this relevancy is generated through knowing your site.

Resources - Adobe Photoshop Elements

The above site analysis examples were created using Adobe Photoshop Elements, which as we describe here is an excellent substitute to the full Photoshop suite, providing everything we as architects and students require at a much smaller price …link to amazon below

…and if you are interested in using the above symbols for your own site analysis recordings and presentation, then head over to our shop (Here).

Continued reading…