Sites for developing buildings upon can be fraught with unknowns, which is why conducting a site analysis is an essential step during project initiation. Constructive Deconstruction asks the question of what exactly site analysis is and how it can be leveraged by architects and designers to inform their concept design processes.

So, what is site analysis?

Site analysis is the process of studying gathered information on a specific physical site in order to understand its site features, climatic conditions and regulatory factors. This information gets superimposed into a single graphical representation which visually communicates to the client the site’s development potential. It is also an exercise in highlighting aspects of the site that may need careful consideration during the concept design stage.

When conducting a site analysis, there are some key sources to bear in mind that can offer the right information in order to get the most out of this procedure.

“A site survey forms an accurate foundation upon which more site-specific information can be layered over top.” – Constructive Deconstruction

A primary source that offers the right information are site surveys. Typically actioned by the owner of a particular site – while professionally conducted by a locally licensed land surveyor – site surveys begin to build a clearer picture of the site’s natural and man-made site features.

Site features can consist of elements such as:

  • The topography of the land – referring to the site’s steepness and surface configuration in order to define its suitability for surface drainage and building development;
  • Existing infrastructural services – understanding what utilities are publicly and privately available for the new development such as electricity, stormwater and sanitary sewer lines; and
  • Movement paths – such as the site’s main access points from legal public roadways and whether there is safe footpath accessibility for pedestrians.
Image: Aerial photography which visually conveys site features that need consideration during site analysis.

As these elements indicate, a site survey forms an accurate foundation upon which more site-specific information can be layered over top. An example of this would be site visits – conducted by building design professionals – which visually catalogue things such as the site’s vantage points, the neighbourhood character and the proximity of the site to local public facilities and services.  

A secondary source that informs the site analysis procedure is understanding the site’s environment. This can be ascertained through local weather service providers who deliver environmental information for the area in which the site is situated, helping to establish the climatic conditions.

Climatic conditions can consist of elements such as:

  • The path of the sun – helping to analyse the site’s exposure to this natural energy source and its potential to be harnessed;
  • The direction of prevailing winds – whether the site is exposed or sheltered from these natural gusts of air;
  • The expected amount of rainfall – how much rainfall has been experienced and recorded locally; and
  • Any unique climate-specific characteristics – such as microclimates, which can differ from the greater surrounding environment and need careful attention.
Image: Understanding the local climatic conditions are fundamental during site analysis.

In addition to site features and climatic conditions, a third and final helpful source is the site’s regulatory factors. These can be found via two methods: through a site’s Certificate of Title (ie. CoTs) which can be requested and provided by local authorities; and via local district planning maps and rules made available by authorities also.

Regulatory factors to identify and consider can consist of elements such as:

  • Legal boundaries – defining the site area, shape and bordering boundaries with adjacent properties;
  • Ownership of the site – whether or not the client is the sole proprietor of the land;
  • Legal instruments on the site – such as land covenants, easements and rights-of-way;
  • Planning overlays – such as historical character zones, flooding-plain areas and protected natural resources; and
  • Zoning Ordinances and rules – such as side yard setbacks, maximum heights, height in relation to boundaries, maximum building coverage, and so forth.

“When undertaking the technique of site analysis, you are taking the best precaution against understanding the site’s assets and liabilities, aiding your ability to arrive at a suitable building design solution.” – Constructive Deconstruction

We now understand what site analysis is. So how can site analysis be leveraged during concept design?

It’s simple. The greater the amount of information that is extracted upstream to complete the site analysis process – ie. site features, climatic conditions and regulatory factors – the more informed the chosen building design response will be downstream in relation to its given environment of placement.

Image: The procedure of site analysis can inform building placement which helps optimise the most out of any given building context.

Thus, site analysis can inform design decisions during the concept design phase that are respective to the site’s specific environment, such as:

  • Building placement – establishing the position of building programmes in relation to adjacent sites and legal roads, including harnessing the site’s natural resources such as direct sunlight and prevailing winds;
  • Spatial organisation and shape – understanding the site’s development offerings in terms of area and what forms of building could be facilitated with consideration of all regulatory factors;
  • Context connectivity – capitalising on the site’s scenic outlooks and taking advantage of the site’s unique site features; and
  • Building enclosure – considering what materials and systems are best placed in responding to the site’s specific climatic conditions.

With that being said, the message is now clear. When undertaking the step of site analysis, you are taking the best precaution against understanding the site’s assets and liabilities, aiding your ability to arrive at a suitable building design solution.

So, with architects and designer’s strong proclivity towards client’s interests and desirable design results, why wouldn’t you employ the technique of site analysis that is designed to get you there?

Written by Thomas Denhardt – Author and Creative Director of Constructive Deconstruction

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