Architecture Site Analysis - The Site Visit

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Introduction

Here we will cover everything you need to know about of how to approach your first site visit to a new architectural project, and what to do when physically there...

However before visiting for the first time we highly recommend that you carry out desktop study beforehand, as this will provide an important initial understanding of the site and generate far better results and more refined questions once there.

The desktop study will also help to identify the important items of equipment that you will need to take with you to make your trip as successful as possible. ...these are mentioned below but may include a: 

…more essential architects items here

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What to look for?

Once there, there are a whole number of important areas and items that need to be studied and recorded, some of which would have already been identified during your desktop study, but as a starting point we’ve produced the below list of all the key areas:

We suggest that you take these with you and tick them off as they are found, so not to miss anything.

  • Entrance and access points (both pedestrian and vehicle)
  • Security (gates, surveillance)
  • Travelling to the site (road types and suitability, safety, public transport)
  • Boundary treatment (fencing, vegetation, land form, water)
  • Extent of boundary (does it match the survey/OS map)
  • Circulation (existing travel routes within the site)
  • Noise levels (quiet and loud areas)
  • Services (electric, gas, water, sewage)
  • Existing buildings (condition? Relevant? Protected?)
  • Existing landscape features (condition? Relevant? Protected?)
  • Neighbouring buildings (local vernacular, protected?)
  • Views in and out of the site (areas to screen off and areas to draw attention to)
  • Tree’s and vegetation (protected and rare species)
  • Ecology (any areas likely to be home to protected species)
  • Orientation (sun and wind paths)
  • Light levels (areas in direct sunlight, shaded areas, dappled light)
  • Accessibility (disability access)
  • Surrounding context (historical, heritage, conservation area, SSSI, AONB)
  • Existing materials in and around the site
  • Topography (site levels)
  • Flood level (is it likely to flood)
  • Soil and ground conditions (types and suitability)
  • Existing legal agreements (where are the rights of way, covenants)
  • Hazards (Electricity lines, Drainage, Telephone lines, Sub-stations)
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Where to start

You want to begin documenting your visit as soon as you arrive, as the approach and entrance to your site are just as important as the site itself. If you’re desktop study didn’t highlight the possible routes and methods of transport to and from the site, then this needs to be recorded also.

Documenting your first impressions is vitally important, ask yourself; what do you see as you enter the site? what do you hear? what do you feel? (...what senses are the first to be triggered), you will only get one chance to do this properly and so you need to make it count!

…and don't forget to include the location of the elements you record, when noting it down on your os map or survey. By the end of your visit, you should barley be able to read whats under all your notes ...write down everything!

Moving on from first impressions, you should plan to walk around the site as least twice (as a minimum) to ensure that nothing is missed, so leave enough time to make a least two loops, noting down and photographing everything that you feel is relevant, no matter how small.

…there's nothing worse than getting back to the studio and realising you forgot to document something.

We like to use the check list supplied above and:

  • Firstly walk around the site whilst annotating a site plan
  • Secondly with a camera ...photographing everything
  • and thirdly with both ...just in case something has been missed  

This way we can focus on one task at a time, helping to ensure we gather everything we need.

In terms of a camera, and depending on your budget we suggest looking one these three options:

It can be difficult to identify certain elements, and some may only be noticeable from a professional survey, such as underground services and precise spot levels. But approximations of such locations and heights are a good start and can serve as a reminder for further investigation.

If accessible you can of course take your own measurements and so this is where a tape measure and/or distance meter will come in handy.

Try one of these:

Tape measure

-Laser distance meter

What to take with you

Firstly look at the weather, you wont have a good time if your not dressed appropriately, and this applies to protecting your notes and equipment as well as yourself.

...a simple quick check, can make or break a visit, arranging to go on sunny day will also give you the best site photographs, which could also be used in future CGI's and presentation material. 

If the site is derelict, or has potentially dangerous or hazardous elements, it is likely that you will require personal protection equipment (otherwise known as PPE) so make sure this is organised before setting off.

As a minimum you want to take with you a camera, a pen and an OS map. Google Maps can provide a temporary (though very basic) version, but a much preferred scaled version that can normally be obtained through your university or practice via such companies as:

  • Digimap - digimap.edina.ac.uk
  • Xero CAD - xerocad.co.uk
  • CAD Mapper - cadmapper.com (free account available)

As mentioned, you will want to make notes, and record everything you observe, experience and hear all over this map. So print out a couple of copies at a usable and convenient size.

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A camera is essential in documenting the site, and the pictures taken during your visit are likely to be used on a daily basis throughout your project. So once again make sure you document and record everything.

Pictures should be taken from all distances, close zoomed-in sections of materials and textures along with shots of the site from a distance to include the area as a whole and within its context.

Note pads are important for obvious reasons, we prefer an A5 sized pad, as this is much easier to carry and hold than an A4 one.

Tape measures can be useful, but we never go on a site visit without a distance meter.

...and lastly if you're visiting on your own, don't forget to tell someone where you'll be and take your phone with a charged battery.

Our site visit equipment check list looks something like this:

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