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'The physician can bury his mistakes but the architect can only advise his client to plant
vines' - F.L.Wright

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


The site visit is one of the first things in the design process. After the
completion of a site visit, a detailed site analysis has to be done so as to really
grasp the features of the site, which will be very important during the design.
Here are some of the points one must pay attention during the site visit as well
as during the site analysis and study -

This is the first thing that one needs to look at. Where is the site located? How
is the site approached? What is the name of the street, the road etc on which
the site is located? How far away is the major junction?
The orientation of the site plays a very important role in siting of the building.
This, when combined with the wind direction and sun path, would give a good
idea as to how the design should be oriented so as to optimise the design. The
orientation along with the sunpath will also determine the placement of rooms
inside buildings. For instance, in a warm tropical climate, the bedrooms will be
placed such that they are not facing the west or the south.
Temperature & Sun path
The average temperature of the area, as well as the monthly average
temperature has to be studied to determine the temperature range and the
fluctuations, which will impact the design.
The sun path direction tells one which will be the side from which the
maximum heat will be coming, especially in the afternoons. In warmer
climates, the design will try to reduce the amount of incident sunlight so as to

reduce the heat intake to a minimum. The lesser surface area of the building
which is exposed to the sun, lesser will be the conductive heating.
In colder climates, the design will try to maximise the amount of sunlight
incident on the building so as to have maximum warmth as possible.
Wind direction
Most of the locations will have a general major direction from which the wind
comes. However, this will not always hold true and will vary from location to
location. If we are to design a climatologically responsive building, it will be
important to consider the direction of the wind so that it can be channelized
through the interiors. This will play a major role in placement & size of
The thing to be remembered is that the wind direction may vary from place to
place inside the site itself and thus have to be checked from a few different
places especially if it is a large site.
Soil type & condition
Soils vary from place to place. Their properties also vary according to the type
of soil. Sandy soil, clayey soil, laterite etc, all have different properties, which
affect the design of the building. This is very important from a structural point
of view while designing buildings. The safe load bearing capacity of the soil is
to be found out after which the structural system and the foundations will be
designed accordingly.
Some soils have peculiar properties. The Black cotton soil for example, is
perfectly normal when in a dry state. However, as soon as it comes in contact
with water, it starts to expand, which will have a very adverse effect on any
building designed on it. Thus, it is important to be aware of these
characteristics to avoid problems in future.
Topography refers to the slope and level of the land whether the land is flat
and plain, or whether it is sloping? From a design point of view, a sloping site
will be more challenging. If a site is sloping, the exact slope can be interpreted
from a detailed Contour map. The contour locations and spacing of contours
will play a big role in the siting of the building. It is always better to design
buildings along with the contours, integrating it into the design to reduce
unnecessary cutting and filling of soil.
Also, during the site visit, it is important to check out the stability of the slopes
whether the slopes are solid enough to permit construction on it.
Vegetation & natural features

The natural vegetation present on the site is very important. Any good design
will integrate it into the design, highlight & accentuate it to create a
harmonious whole. The vegetation will consist of all the trees, flora and fauna
present on the site. These should me marked onto the site plan so that it will
assist during the design stage. Along with the location, the type of trees, the
size of the trees, diameter or spread of the branches, heights etc are to be
identified. Different trees have different characteristics the spread of leaves,
the speed of growth, the spread of roots, falling of leaves, water requirement,
soil nourishment etc. All these features will vary from tree to tree and will also
play a major role in the design.
Along with trees and vegetation, other natural features like rock formations,
swamps, marshes etc. are also to be identified.
Precipitation & Hydrology
The amount of rainfall that the site receives and also the time period during
which the rainfall occurs are to be found out. The average annual rainfall,
often measured in mm, gives you an idea about the precipitation happening
throughout the year.
It is also important to study the water drainage pattern in the site - whether it
stagnates, or if it flows following the natural slope, this has to be analysed to
incorporate in the design.
The Relative Humidity of the place also has to be found out to determine the
moisture content in the atmosphere. A higher relative humidity suggests a
humid climate, for which cross circulation of wind at the body level is a must
for comfort. A lower relative humidity will suggest a dry climate.
Hydrology, as the name suggests, refers to things related to water. During the
site visit, we need to identify water bodies present in and around the site like
ponds, lakes, rivers etc. The location and size of these water bodies should be
studied so that they can be integrated into the design scheme. The presence of
water can lead to reduction in the overall temperatures. It will also affect the
moisture content in the atmosphere. One thing to be checked is whether there
is any excessive glare present.
The water table is another very important feature in any site study. This refers
to the level below the soil at which water is present. For areas close to water
bodies, the water table may be very shallow. A shallow water table will affect
the stability of foundations and additional precautions will have to be taken.
Infrastructure facilities
This refers to the services present in the location. The major things to be
considered are the water supply, drainage connection, waste disposal,
electricity supply etc. These are important while planning the zoning in the

Surrounding landuses & buildings

One also needs to pay attention to the surrounding landuses and building
around the site. If the landuses are incompatible, it may lead to creation of
issues in the design. For example, if there is a school right next to the site, the
noise disturbance will have to be factored in while designing. Also, the height
and setbacks of adjacent buildings are important in affecting the flow of air
and also sunlight.
Prominent Vision lines / Visual linkages
This becomes a very important element in the design process. The views to the
site as well as the views from the site are to be carefully considered while
Locally available resources One also needs to find out what the locally available resources are. What
materials are available in and around the site, which can be used in the design.
This is especially relevant today when the design has to be as sustainable as
possible, by reducing the transportation energy & costs.
Lear more in detail in the excellent 'Form, Space and Order' here and more
about Analysing Architecture here

Site Planning
Site planning involves arranging structures on the land and shaping spaces between them.
It is an art linked to architecture, and city planning. The site plan locates objects and
activities in space and time. It may be concerned with a small cluster of houses, a single
building and the surrounding space, or a small community built in a single operation.

Environmental Factors
Environmental study for architectural design involves collection of data, reconnaissance
survey, creative ability and imagination, and the design of solutions to solve building
When an architect is given a design assignment, there are many environmental factors
that are to be considered. The site is the major factor that has to be considered. Site
means the area or the land that is meant for the construction of the proposed project. Site
Planning is the art and science of arranging the various portions of a particular piece of
land according to their uses. The site planner decides on the uses of the site in detail by
selecting and analyzing it for the various characteristics of soil, slope, vegetation, etc.
The landscape involves the design of outside space. This should be thought about
carefully to make an architectural design complete. The climate at the location at the site
is very important as it affects the building that is to be constructed. Services such as water
supply, drainage, sanitation, electricity, fire protection, air-conditioning system, etc. also
have to be considered in order to make an architectural design complete.

Identification of site and its preparation

Each site has a unique nature of its own. The purpose for which it is to be used should be
clearly understood. Every site when disturbed takes time to experience the mutual
adjustment of its elements. For example, the flow of water creates a drainage pattern.
Many factors are involved in the analysis of the site. These include the factors above the
ground, below the ground and on the ground, as discussed in the following.

Natural Factors

Topography-slope analysis
Hydrography-streams, lakes, swamps
Soil classification of types and uses
Climate factors solar orientation, summer, winter winds, humidity, precipitation

The type of rock below the surface of soil, the depth, and the characteristic features of
rock should be identified. Such rocks could act as a foundation for many buildings. These
are natural and could form visible landforms. The stability of such geological formations
is also important.

The form of land is called its topography. This is the most important factor to be
analysed. Geology and the slow process of natural erosion (soil being worn away because
of wind or water) are responsible for landforms and slopes. A topographic survey will
reveal the badly drained areas and natural drainage channels. It will be also reveal places
that have good views and parts of the site that are visible or hidden from any selected
point outside the site. The slopes will decide the roads and paths; a steep slope will
increase building costs.

Hydrography provides information about all types of water bodies present in and around
the site: lakes, streams, any marshy land(swamps), or natural wells. It also reveals the
availability or otherwise of a groundwater table and the depth at which it is available.

The different types of soil present are analysed. Soil decides the stability of land,
foundation, suitability, excavation, erosion, drainage, and plant growth(as the top soil is
essential for good plant growth). The bearing capacity of soil is an important factor to be
considered while locating buildings.

A study of vegetation helps in locating large existing trees, which can be retained. These
can be used for providing seating. The ecology of the area should also be examined to
know what plants or shrubs would grow in that area.

This is an important consideration when choosing sites for parks and recreation. Fishing
and hunting are major recreational activities. The selection of land suitable for such
activities depends on natural wildlife present in the area. Wildlife also adds form, colour
and movement to the landscape.

One might also want to be informed about the wildlife present in the area to preserve it
and not disturb the animals natural habitats due to the construction.

Climatic Factors
Across a piece of land, the elevation difference, character of topography, vegetation
cover, and water bodies influence the climate of that area. On the other hand,
precipitation and temperature are the major factors affecting vegetation. In cool and
temperate climates, vegetation may be used to block winter winds.

Cultural Factors

Existing land use ownership of adjacent property and off-site nuisance

Traffic and transit-vehicular and pedestrian circulation on or adjacent to site.
Density and floor area ratio
Utilities sanitation , water, gas, electricity, stormwater drainage.
Existing buildings
Historic factors historic buildings and landmarks.

Existing land use

This implies a survey of the present status of the land-whether it is residential,
commercial, industrial or recreational. The ownership of the adjacent site will also affect
the land being surveyed.
Offsite nuisances: Disturbances from outside and around the site have to be studied.
Visual nuisance elements: Power lines, water tower, certain industrial complexes,
highways, advertisement boards, junkyards(waste dumps), etc., are some examples of
eye-sore elements that have to be taken into account.
Possible auditory nuisance: Noise produced by heavy automobiles, trains, air traffic etc.
and the surrounding population has to be studied.
Olfactory nuisance: Dumps, chemicals, other wastes in and around the site have to be
taken care of.
Safety Hazards: Severe or sudden changes in landform, such as a steep cliff at the edge
of the site have to be noted.