Design Guide, Site Design

Site Analysis in Architecture : A Step-by-Step Guide

Every design project begins with a site analysis and then moves on to the concept. Identifying the needs on the basis of the given site will help us narrow down to the information we will actually use throughout the design process. 

how to do site analysis in architecture

The following are often the most important information you need to get out of your site analysis:

  1. General Site Information
  2. Climate Analysis
  3. Legal Information
  4. Transit Networks
  5. Threats
  6. Topography
  7. Material Availability
  8. Site Context

The above are the common bases we all get to explore during the site analysis of any given site. Under these lie several branches of information we further collect based on the needs of our own site.

1. General Site Information

General site information in site analysis
Mapping out the site context during site analysis

This forms the basic framework of the site analysis process. These are often stated in the brief, so visual observation of the same can help you understand the scale and potential of the site.

Site Location and Coordinates

Locating a site on the map and using that as a base to understand the site context.

Deriving site coordinates and keeping it in hand for everytime you will need to look up the map during the design process.

Site Orientation

Finding where the north is in the map will give you an idea of how the rest of the spaces are oriented around it.

Orientation also helps in the climate data collection and other functional analysis of the site.

Site Dimensions

The site dimensions are often given in the design brief. Outlining the dimensions on the site map can help you understand the scale of the site.

By mapping out the site dimensions, you can create boundaries and understand the elements that are inside and outside the site.

Site Topography and shape

Determining the contour of the site, be it slope, gradual slope or flat, and even deriving a contour map will help later on in the design process. Because sticking to the contour of the site will often lead us to the most efficient design.

There are websites that help derive the estimated contours of the site, like the one linked below.

https://cadmapper.com/

Circulation in and around the site

Existing access roads around the site, and in the site (if any) need to be observed to primarily ensure the shortest possible path into the site.

Observation of the circulation of the street level will help in understanding exterior circulation paths to get to the site.

Natural Vegetation in and around the site

By spotting the vegetation present in the site, there is an opportunity to design around it and exploit it for its various benefits. 

Building around the existing vegetation of the site will help minimise the elimination of vegetation during construction. 

By spotting the vegetation around the site, incorporation of the same in the design of shading elements can be performed.

Existing Buildings in and Around the Site 

Calculation of the distance, height, type and noise levels from existing buildings in and around the site will help us understand the environmental context the site exists in.

Collection of information regarding the architectural features and color scheme of the existing buildings around the site could prove to be helpful in the design process for the design to be in harmony with the buildings around it. 

Utilitarian

Access to water, gas, electricity, drainage, telephone and so on must be studied and established. 

The analysis of the depth and span of the services available and mapping them out within the site will help in better the zoning of spaces during the design process.

Noise levels

Identifying the noise levels in the site is very important to know how much insulation will be needed to buffer it. 

Studying the potential neighboring traffic, buildings and open spaces to study the noise levels can make the information as precise as possible.

2. Climate Analysis

Climate plays an important role in shaping the design to be as efficient and cost effective as possible. Protecting the user and the building are primary goals, and that can be achieved through climate analysis.

General weather data of the site

Psychrometric chart to find the HVAC levels of comfort in a building or site
Psychrometric chart to find the HVAC levels of comfort

Discovering the type of climate of the city that the site is located in will be the first step to climate analysis – Dry, wet, hot, cold, humid, tropical, temperate, etc.

The psychrometric chart plays an important role in determining the HVAC conditions and requirements of the site.

The following are some of the other primary climate data that must be derived:

(i) Temperature

(ii) Humidity

(iii) Average rainfall

Sun Path

Sun path diagram in accordance to the angle of sun at the site
Sun path diagram in accordance to the angle of sun at the site

The sun path diagram of a site helps determine the shading hours and direction of sun inside the site. 

We can identify the shadow patterns cast by the buildings and also identify the optimal solar panel positions on our building.

There are a lot of websites that allow you to derive sun paths by just inputting the site coordinates like the one linked below.

http://andrewmarsh.com/apps/staging/sunpath3d.html

Wind

wind rose diagram to find the prevailing wind direction
wind rose diagram

Monitoring the wind direction and speed on the site can highly influence the design choices made because both lack of ventilation and too much ventilation can be problematic.

From situating the open spaces, to choosing the right materials and orientation for the building, there are quite a few design solutions that depend on the wind pattern.

3. Legal Information

Setback Requirements

Setback is the minimum distance that must be left from each side for the purpose of protection of the building. 

The width of the setback varies based on the location, city rules and the road width adjacent to the site.

Rights of Way/Rights of Access

Legal rights of specific access routes need to be verified before proceeding with the construction. 

The ownership rights of the people come into play when the access road to your site might pass through someone else’s private property.

Conservation

The historical backgrounds of the site must be analysed to study the cultural and historical significance of the site or what already exists in the site. 

Understanding the conservation rights ensure that construction on the site will not lead to any legal repercussions in the future.

Tree Preservation Orders

Protected species of trees, legal ownership and general laws may not allow the cutting down of trees for the purpose of construction in some areas.

In case of wanting to cut down trees for construction, tree preservation orders often need to be looked into, else it might lead to legal repercussions in the future.

Transportation Network

Bus and Railway Transit Networks

Identifying the distance between the site and the nearest Bus and Railway transits can be done to understand the ease of accessibility for the users of the site.

Vehicle Access into Site

By exploring the circulation systems and traffic in and around the site, analysis of the access for the vehicle, including service entries and main entry can be done.

 4. Threats

Electricity Lines

Identifying the electricity lines passing through the site can help us determine the zoning and threats of live wires in case of open spaces.

Ongoing Construction

Ongoing construction close to the site can cause disturbance or transmit dust on to the site. 

Waste production

Toxic waste production or rejects near the site can be harmful and must be evacuated before construction commences.

Water contamination

Observing if there are any factories nearby that could potentially pollute the water supply received by the site. 

5. Site Context

Cultural History

Every site will have a story dating years back. Researching the cultural aspects of the city can provide contextual information that can be incorporated into the building design.

Vernacular techniques

Exploration of the vernacular construction practices and materials used in the vicinity of the site. 

Some techniques might even inspire your design and at the same time ensure that the design is contextual to its surroundings. 

Material Availability

Measuring the distance with which construction materials are available will help reduce transportation costs. 

Exploration of the vernacular materials and the materials used on building nearby can also help preserve site context. 

Application and Software that can aid you in Site Analysis

Visiting a site in person will be the most effective way to properly analyse a site. But when we’re unable to visit a site for site analysis, there are a number of other ways to extract as much information about the site as possible.

The softwares mentioned below will be very helpful to provide you with as much information as possible when online.

Energy Plus

downloadable EPW files for different states of each continent on the EnergyPlus website
Downloadable EPW files for different states of each continent on the EnergyPlus website

Energy Plus is a building energy simulation program that can help you model building energy and water use in the buildings. 

In addition to that, you can download weather data in the EPW format from 2100 places all over the world. 

This arrangement of the weather data can be transferred to the Climate Consultant software to analyse the weather of a particular site and derive meaningful information.

https://energyplus.net/weather

Solar Tool

Sun Path diagram derived for a specific coordinate, date, and time
Sun Path diagram derived for a specific coordinate, date, and time

Solar Tool is a user-friendly interface to obtain solar information. It helps analyze sun path diagrams and compile conclusions in a tabulated manner.

By choosing the date, time and location coordinates, precise sun-path diagrams and more can be derived. 

The application also helps model calculated overhangs and shades on windows based on the shadow formations and orientation.

Other derivable information include sun angles, solar penetrations, shade dimensions and more.

https://solar-tool.software.informer.com/2.0/

Climate Consultant software

Psychrometric Chart with comfort levels and design strategies in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India
Psychrometric Chart with comfort levels and design strategies in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India

Climate Consultant Software helps translate all the raw EPW climate data derived from the Energy Plus website into digestible graphical content in an hourly manner for the chosen location. 

It is an interactive software where you can substitute data such as date and time and determine comfort levels to derive useful information. 

The Psychrometric Chart is packed with information with regards to indoor comfort levels based on the outdoor environment. 

The software also comes with pre-determined design guidelines with illustrations that you can take inspiration from for your own design as well. 

https://climate-consultant.informer.com/6.0/

QGIS

City-level land use zoning with Google Maps and Google Satellite
City-level land use zoning with Google Maps and Google Satellite

QGIS is an open-source software that helps you derive and study geographic information. 

You can view, analyse and edit spatial data by installing the required plugins such as google maps. 

QGIS allows you to layer data on top of each other and add multiple map views and label them with lines, shapes and text. 

https://qgis.org/en/site/about/index.html

Representation of the Site Analysis

Visual representation of the results from the site analysis will help better portray the scale, context and information better. A good method would be to work with the site map as the base and layer site information on top with text, arrows and symbols.

While compiling a site analysis, the more information we manage to find, the more familiar we get with the space we are going to be working with. And that familiarity will ultimately translate into our design in the form of efficiency and functionality.

Other similar articles you might be interested in: