Architecture site analysis (or site analysis architecture), 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.
The below site analysis examples were created using the below site analysis drawing symbols in Adobe Photoshop.
What is site analysis architecture?
Architectural site analysis is the process of researching, observing, and analyzing the physical, cultural, social, historical, environmental, and infrastructural characteristics of a site in order to inform the design of a building or space.
It involves collecting and presenting data about a site and its context, such as climate, topography, land use, zoning regulations, transportation, and community needs.
The information gathered during both a virtual and physical analysis process, is used to develop a comprehensive understanding of the site, including its opportunities, constraints, and potential, and to guide decision-making throughout the design process.
Site analysis is an essential step in the pre-design phase of architectural projects, and is used to develop a strong conceptual basis for the design.
Collaboration is essential for site analysis, but the approach may vary depending on factors such as the type of project and whether it is a group or singular exercise, as well as site proximity.
For live projects, given that site analysis architecture encompasses various data types beyond design, technical research is often outsourced. This typically involves engaging land surveying services and engineers (both geotechnical and civil) to address questions related to topography, soils, hydrology, utilities, zoning, and land use.
(Obviously at a student level this isn’t required, and will often be provided with the project brief if relevant.)
…Successful site analysis is often greatly benefited by also considering and incorporating input from the community members who will be most impacted by the project.
Why do architects use it?
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 is it used to plan projects?
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 path, 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.
What to look for during your analysis and research
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
02 –Neighbouring buildings
- Site lines
- Rights to light
- Legal restrictions
- Noise levels
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
- Public routes
- Private routes
- Vehicle access
- Pedestrian access
- Existing site circulation routes within
05 – Topography
- Key features/restrictions
06 – Views
- Private views out
- Public views in
07 – Sun paths
- Sun paths
- Solar gains
08 – Wind patterns
- Prevailing direction
09 – Public Transport Links
010 – Trees and vegetation
- TPO’s and protected species
- Root protection areas
- Items for removal
- Items to maintain
011 – Ecology
- Protected species
- Protected zones
012 – Site restrictions
- Neighbors / adjacent conditions
- Land slides
013 – Features
- Areas to expose/use
- Areas to improve
- Areas to hide
014 – Hazards
- (Electricity lines, Drainage, Telephone lines, Sub-stations)
- Derelict Buildings
- Unfinished building works
Breaking down your project data
When conducting a site analysis, it’s important to take a strategic approach by considering both objective and subjective data at three different scales: Global, Macro, and Micro.
- Global refers to the very large context of the site, including its relationship to the suburb, city, and even larger geographical area.
- Macro encompasses the full site and its immediate surroundings on all sides
- Micro focuses on the individual elements and characteristics within the site itself.
It’s crucial to remember that the site and project do not exist in isolation but are part of a larger and constantly changing context. They have connections and relationships with the immediate surroundings, the wider site, the suburb and city, as well as the local community and the people living within it.
Objective – Objective or hard data pertains to the conditions that exist on a site, irrespective of human interaction. These factors are objective because they exist regardless of our observation or experience, and they are what they are.
For example, the above:
- and typography
…are all objective elements.
Subjective – Subjective or soft data encompasses the conditions or situations on a site that arise due to human interaction. These factors are subjective as they are subject to change over time and exist only because humans create, interact with, or experience them. They are primarily sensory in nature and relate to what humans can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch, and how they experience the site.
For example, the above:
…are all subjective elements.
Analysis and research process
The analysis of a site goes beyond its property lines, and includes an assessment of its physical state and surroundings, along with relevant historical information. Conducting a study prior to visiting the site can provide valuable information and help identify specific areas to focus on during the visit.
To prepare for a site visit, it may be helpful to obtain an OS map of the area and review client information to determine the location of site boundaries. This information can inform the site analysis and facilitate a more informed assessment of the site.
To fully understand a site, it’s important to assess any significant changes to the physical and architectural landscape, as well as the site’s neighboring context, adjacent sites, and its significance to the community.
Fortunately, there are several sources of information available to aid in site analysis. Google Street View and aerial photographs offer a recent history of a site, and can be used for site plans and mapping information. Tools such as CadMapper and CadEarth provide 3D maps for volumetric references.
Local government websites often have property records and maps that provide information on zoning, land ownership, school districts, transportation, and utilities.
Additionally, community centers, neighborhood associations, local historical societies, and newspapers can be resources for accessing archives or documented histories of a site and its greater context. By utilizing these resources, a more comprehensive understanding of the site can be gained.
We have a full article on how to conduct a successful desktop study here.
Visiting the site
Upon arriving at the site, it’s important to verify any information, documents, and research obtained during the above desktop analysis, and identify any incorrect or conflicting information or conditions. Additionally, record all other existing conditions present on the site.
This will ensure accurate and up-to-date information is used in the design process, and any issues or discrepancies can be addressed promptly.
First impressions of the site are crucial, so pay attention to initial responses and collect sensory data, including points of entry. Asking questions about accessibility, parking, nearby traffic or transit, and noise levels can provide valuable information.
Observing existing spatial relationships can also aid in the site analysis. Take note of how people move about the space and where they naturally gravitate towards. Consider any relationship between movement and sunlight or shade. Measurements may need to be taken, if not already provided via a site plan.
Visual documentation such as photographs, sketches, and videos can also be useful. Take photos of the site itself as well as views from the site, which can be used for annotations or context in later perspectives and renderings. By bringing these items and conducting a thorough analysis, a more informed and comprehensive design approach can be taken.
The below site analysis checklist can greatly aid with this, and we have a full article on what to do and take when visiting your site for first time here.
After visiting the site and collecting information, the next step is to examine the findings. This involves reviewing the gathered data, putting the findings alongside one another, and exploring their relationships.
It’s important to remember that the design process is not linear. By this stage, a good understanding of the brief, users, activities, and program for the project should be developed. It’s also a good time to start developing preliminary concept ideas in parallel with finalizing the site analysis. By considering these factors, a more informed and comprehensive design approach can be taken.
We again have a dedicated article breaking down this process here
While not always required, presenting site analysis information can be helpful in many cases.
The presentation of collected information and conclusions drawn from the site analysis stages provides context for each project. While data collection is crucial, it’s pointless without transcribing the information into relevant and easily understandable content. During analysis, certain site conditions may have a greater influence on design parameters and decision-making.
By combining research, observations, and newfound limitations, designers can apply their findings to the schematic design and programming phase. This is where the information collected during site analysis is used to create a design concept that meets the project’s goals and requirements.
The most important aspect of presenting site analysis is ensuring the information is clear and easily digestible. Avoid spending excessive time on fancy graphics if the information is difficult to understand. By following these tips, site analysis can be effectively presented to communicate the necessary information.
We have a full article on site analysis presentation here, and another discussing site analysis symbols here.
Site analysis examples
Below is a selection of useful resources for finding examples of site analysis in architecture, showcasing how architects have used this process to inform their design decisions and create a successful project plan. From urban public spaces to rural residential projects, these examples demonstrate how site analysis is an essential step in creating thoughtful and contextually responsive architecture:
- Architecture competitions entries
- End of year shows
Also check out our own Architecture site analysis diagram and presentation examples onPinterest
…Together with Adobe Photoshop, if you are interested in using the above symbols for your own site analysis recordings and presentation, then head over to our shop (Here).
And as discussed above, for a further and detailed breakdown of how to use your site analysis to develop meaningful design responses, our set of resources contained within the below Concept Kit provides tried and tested methods and processes to developing bespoke approaches.
Have confidence in your design process.
Discover the core components, principles, and processes to form the foundations of award winning work.
Free 15 step site analysis checklist
We get a lot of questions regarding site analysis checklists and where they can be found, and so we thought it was about time we created one …two in-fact! Scroll down to the bottom to download the site analysis checklists in PDF format to.
Why use a checklist for your site analysis work?
Trying to recall tasks that need to be completed not only wastes time, but mostly results in them being lost or forgotten.A good checklist helps to stop this and frees up your mind to actually work on the items, instead of trying to remember them .
Having a large amount of to do actions can and will overwhelm and demoralize even the most motivated among us. By removing them and writing them down, we are able to physically visualize what needs to be accomplished, and concentrate on a systematic approach to complete them one by one.
When facing a deadline this becomes vitally important.
As soon as a new task is created, write in down and add it to your checklist, this then becomes your physical record of the event that you have complete control over (no memory required), and it will exist until it is finished and crossed off.
When working in an architectural firm or any other professional scenario, there is nothing worse than being asked to do something to then only forget certain details or the whole task altogether! This will only result in the wrong work being done and key elements missed out. …not to mention the embarrassment.
Be professional and don’t try to accumulate instructions in your head to document later …they will be forgotten! Write everything down, as it happens.
By structuring your thinking in this way and using checklists as recording and instruction tools, it will formulate and structure your working day, making you more efficient. The tasks written down should then be ticked or crossed off as they are completed, this will not only ensure their completion, but also provide you with a level of achievement and satisfaction that you are moving forward.
Checklists should also be used to priorities work into deadlines, levels of importance and timescales, helping to plan out how and when tasks can and should be completed, and ensure key information and dates are not missed.
Site analysis checklist (pdf)
Following on from the above, the processes required to successfully carry out the analysis of your projects site, we feel are far too many to remember.
So here we have provided two site analysis checklists that firstly cover all of the primary areas of the site analysis process and secondly, provide a checklist outlining what to assess during your first site visit.
To download our free checklists, simply sign up with your email below and follow the download link provided:
Sign up to our mailing list to receive our free Site Analysis and Site Visit Checklists
FAQ’s about site analysis architecture
Why is a checklist important?
Checklists are important because they help to ensure that all necessary tasks of a site visit are completed and that important details are not overlooked. They provide a systematic approach to completing your analysis tasks, which can help to increase efficiency and reduce the risk of missing keys areas of interest.
In addition to helping to ensure that tasks are completed correctly, checklists can also help to improve communication and coordination between design team members. peers, and even tutors. By creating a shared list of tasks, team members can work together more effectively and track progress towards the shared goal.
Overall, site analysis checklists are an important tool that can help to improve efficiency, reduce the risk of errors, and enhance communication and coordination of your site visits.
What makes a good checklist?
There are several characteristics that can make a checklist effective:
- Clear and concise: A good site analysis checklist should be easy to understand and should not contain unnecessary information.
- Specific: It should be specific to the task at hand and should not include unrelated items.
- Prioritized: Items on the checklist should be organized in order of importance or in the order in which they need to be completed.
- Adaptable: A good checklist should be flexible and able to be modified as needed to fit the specific needs of the task or situation.
- Timely: It should be used at the appropriate time, such as before, during, or after the site visit is completed.
- Visual: A visual checklist, such as one with checkboxes, can be helpful for quickly identifying completed tasks and tracking progress.
- User-friendly: Finally, a site analysis checklist should be easy to use and should not require a lot of time or effort to complete.
How do I make my own checklist?
If you don’t want our free checklist (please see above!) – You can create your own by follow these steps:
- Identify the task or process that the checklist will be used for (site analysis). This will help you focus on the specific items that need to be included.
- Determine the appropriate level of detail for the checklist. You should include enough detail to ensure that all necessary tasks are covered, but not so much that the checklist becomes overwhelming.
- Organize the items on the checklist in the order in which they need to be completed, or prioritize them by importance.
- Use clear and concise language when describing the items on the checklist. Avoid using jargon or technical terms that may not be understood by all users.
- Consider using visual elements, such as checkboxes, to help users quickly identify completed tasks and track progress.
- Test the checklist to ensure that it is effective and user-friendly. You may need to make adjustments based on feedback or your own experience using the checklist.
By following these steps, you can create a customized checklist that is tailored to your specific site and project goals.
What essential elements do architects use for their site analysis?
The four essential elements of site analysis in architecture are:
- Physical context: This includes analyzing the topography, geology, hydrology, climate, and vegetation of the site.
- Social context: This involves analyzing the cultural, economic, and social characteristics of the community and understanding how the project can fit into the community.
- Historical context: This includes understanding the historical and cultural significance of the site, and how it has been used and transformed over time.
- Regulatory context: This involves understanding the zoning and building codes, land use regulations, and other legal requirements that may impact the design and development of the project.
What is SWOT analysis in architectural site analysis?
SWOT analysis is a tool used in architecture site analysis to assess the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of a particular site. It is a strategic planning method that helps architects and designers evaluate the potential of a site by examining its internal and external factors.
The strengths and weaknesses are internal factors that relate to the site itself, such as its physical attributes, condition, and accessibility. The opportunities and threats are external factors that relate to the surrounding environment, such as zoning regulations, community needs, and potential hazards.
By conducting a SWOT analysis, architects and designers can identify the unique characteristics of a site and develop design strategies that capitalize on its strengths and opportunities, while minimizing its weaknesses and threats. This analysis can help in the decision-making process, informing the design concept and guiding the development of the project program.