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What is site analysis in Architecture?

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Find out what is site analysis in architecture, how to make one, and the best ways to collect data for a site analysis.
Site Analysis in Architecture Presentation

Site analysis in architecture is a pre-design research activity. Site analysis in architecture looks at the current, future, and possible conditions on and around a project site.

The primary purpose of site analysis in architecture is to tell us about our site before we start planning our design concept. Architectural site analyses let us respond to the outside environment from the beginning of the building design process in a meaningful way.

Site analysis in architecture is all about the forces, pressures, and situations on the land where we will build our project and how they all work together.

Why Architects do an Architectural Site Analysis?

As architects, we need to be able to do an architectural site analysis to design buildings that not only meet their internal functions but also relate well with their external environment.

Since our building will be there for a long time, we should try to consider both the current situation and what might happen in the future.

How do you do an architecture site analysis?

Architecture requires three steps to complete a quality site analysis. These steps are:

  1. Site Research
  2. Analysis & Synthesis
  3. Diagramming

1️⃣ Site Research

Person standing in front of a window
Source: David Sonluna

Site data research is the first step in successful site analysis in architecture.

During this phase, we collect an inventory of existing and projected site conditions. At this point, we are not thinking about how to respond to the site. Instead, we’re doing our best to gather information about the site where the project will take place.

At this stage, we collect the following types of data:


State and city maps show the site’s location concerning the city. They also define the distance and travel time to different city zones [Functions].

Neighborhood context

This map typically extends three to four blocks from the defined site but may go further to gather vital project information. The map may include existing and planned uses, buildings, zoning, and other conditions that may impact our project.

Size and Zoning

Documents all dimensional aspects of the site, such as:

  • Boundaries
  • Location
  • Dimension of easements
  • Zoning implications with all its dimensional implications
    [Setbacks, Height restrictions, parking formulas, allowed uses, etc.]
  • The buildable area
    [The Land available for the project after all setbacks and easements substructions]
  • The present and future zoning trends, such as Plans by the city transportation departments to widen roads
    [Change rights of way] 


This section shows the legal description of the property:

  • covenants and restrictions
  • ownership
  • governmental jurisdiction (city or county)
  • Any futuristic plans might affect the project, like if the site is in an area that the city wants to develop for a university expansion in the future.

Natural Physical features

Pretty obvious, right? This category includes all-natural features, such as:

  • Contours
  • Drainage patterns
  • Soil Type and bearing capacity
  • Trees
  • Rocks
  • Ridges
  • Peaks
  • Valleys
  • Pools
  • Ponds

Man-Made Features:

Documents on site conditions such as:

  • Buildings
  • Walls
  • Drives
  • Curb Cuts
  • Hydrants
  • Power Poles
  • Paving Patterns

Documents off-site conditions such as:

  • Scale
  • Roof Forms
  • Fenestration patterns
  • Setbacks
  • Materials
  • Colors
  • Open Spaces
  • Visual Axes
  • Paving Patterns
  • Landscaping Materials
  • Patterns
  • Porosity
  • The assertiveness of wall forms, accessories, and details


Diagram of Road's analysis
Source: Alex Hogrefe

Documents all vehicular and pedestrian movement patterns on and around the site, Such as:

  • Duration
  • Peak Loads for surrounding vehicular traffic and Pedestrian movement
  • Bus Stops
  • Site Access edges
  • Traffic Generators
  • Service truck access
  • Intermittent traffic [Parades, Fire truck routes, concerts at nearby auditorium]

💡 Design Insight: Traffic analysis should include any futuristic plans if possible.


This category shows the type, capacity, and location of all utilities on or near the site, such as:

  • Electricity 
  • Gas
  • Sewer 
  • Water
  • Telephone

💡 Design Insight: It’s also essential to document the distance between utilities and the site, how deep they go underground [Depth], The pipe’s materials, and its diameter.


This category describes the site’s sights, sounds, textures, and smells, Such as:

  • The noise around the site.
  • Views to and from the site

💡 Design Insight: It is also helpful to document the sensory issue’s type, duration, intensity, and quality [positive or negative].

Human and Culture

louver museum
Source: Louis Paulin

This category includes an analysis of the surrounding neighborhood’s cultural, psychological, behavioral, and sociological aspects, such as:

  • Population
  • Age
  • Values
  • Income
  • Family Structure 
  • Also, it’s helpful to write down any planned or unplanned events in the area, like festivals, parades, or arts and crafts fairs.
  • Vandalism and crime patterns can affect architects’ decisions when conceptualizing site zoning and building design.

💡 Design Insight: This category from the neighborhood context listed earlier as the neighborhood context addresses the physical while this category deals with the activities, human relationships, and patterns of human characteristics.


This section includes all relevant weather conditions, such as:

  • Rainfall
  • Snowfall
  • Humidity
  • Temperature variations over the months of the year
  • Wind direction
  • Sun-Path
  • Vertical Sun angles
  • Potential catastrophes, such as:
  • Tornados
  • Hurricanes
  • Earth-quakes

💡 Design Insight: It is also helpful to know not only the typical weather but also the worst conditions, such as Maximum daily rainfall and peak wind velocity.

2️⃣ Analysis & Synthesis

Yellow color paper clips with only a white one isolated on paper background
Source: Tamanna Rumee

This stage is the most crucial phase of site analysis in architecture.

Every bit of information we gathered in the last step has either a positive, negative, or neutral effect on the design decisions we make in the next step.

Try to find connections between the data and make sense of it. What do the data mean, and how will they affect your project’s design decisions [the initial conceptual decisions that form the designer-made context for subsequent decisions]? 

You can and should brainstorm this step visually.

3️⃣ Architectural Site Analysis Diagrams [Site analysis report]

Site analysis diagrams

Now that we’re at the end of the site analysis in architecture process, we need to create a site analysis report. A site analysis report is a document that shows the most important things we learned from the other stages of site analysis. It also shows how this information influenced our design decisions, making it easier for others to understand why we made certain decisions.

Based on the information you’ve gathered; here’s how you can present your site analysis in architecture report:

  • Text Report
  • Graph Report
  • Photographic Documentation 
  • Sketches

💡 Design Insight: Whatever the combination you will use to represent you architectural site analysis data. The most important thing is that the information you give is clear and easy to understand.

How to collect data for site analysis in architecture?

To save hours, you should look for information about your site in a way that makes sense. First, do a search online.

1️⃣ Search Online

Before going to the site, make some coffee and take some time to look online for information about it.

Thanks to modern technology, you don’t have to get out of your chair to learn about your site.

Here are five sites that can help you with your site analysis in architecture:

  • The Pudding: visual the world’s population in 3d, this website is fantastic for creating diagrams for urban design essays or architectural site analysis research. 
  • Urban Observatory: You can save a lot of time by using this website to compare cities across various categories, including transportation, population, public facilities, and infrastructure. However, some cities are missing from the database.
  • VentuSky: This will help you get a lot of information about the weather at the project site, such as wind speed, humidity, snow cover, and many other things.
  • OpenStreetMap: gives you a lot of free information about your site’s location, and the best part is that you can export it and use it directly in Photoshop to make diagrams.
  • Mapbox: is also excellent for generating information about your site, such as buildings, water, natural features, etc. All the elements can be modified, making it simple to create diagrams.
  • CadMapper: is the best for generating CAD maps for any city. You will be able to generate up to 1 km2 area for free.

2️⃣ Visit The site

After gathering online information, it’s time to prepare for the site visit. Things you need to consider before visiting:

  • Take lots of pictures from various distances and perspectives and aim for panoramic shots and streetscapes as well; they will come in handy.
  • Notebook and pens: A notebook is essential for making sketches, taking notes, and writing down any information that might be helpful.
  • Tool for measuring: You will also need to verify unknown dimensions with tools like a laser measurer or a tape measure.
  • Make sure of the weather: Pick a day for a visit that is clear and sunny. The good weather will make it easier for you to take pictures and do the analysis.
  • Snacks: Site analyses take a ridiculous amount of time, so ensure you have snacks and water to keep you going throughout the day.

3️⃣ Get in touch

Some data you won’t be able to get by searching or visiting the site.

You can only get them by contacting the related authority or organization. For example, plans to widen the roads, a map of the city, etc. Figure out what information you don’t have and how it will affect your design decisions. Then, contact the organization that has that information.

Picture of Bahaa Aydi

Bahaa Aydi

I'm Bahaa, a Licensed architect specialized in Interior design & Archviz • Sharing my design days with you to help you design better space