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site analysis in architecture

Site analysis in architecture

Site analysis is the phase preceding the architectural design. It is essential to plan the addition of new buildings in the surrounding context. Here is how to proceed and what tools can support the technician’s activity

In architecture, site analysis is the process evaluating the physical, social, architectural, etc. characteristics of the place that will host a work, in order to develop an architectural solution in harmony with the reference context.

In this article, we will see how to correctly analyze the site, what are all the steps to follow, what aspects to consider before starting the design and what BIM GIS software can support you.

How to analyze your site with usBIM.gis

How to analyze your site with usBIM.gis

How to make a site analysis plan

Each site is unique and there are many elements and factors that come into play in its characterization: topography, naturalistic elements (water courses, vegetation, fauna, etc.), history (presence of monuments, peculiar or traditional buildings, events to remember, etc.), existing buildings and infrastructures, social aspects, climate, borders (urban, landscape, etc.), etc.

The analysis of these characteristics together with the objectives established by designers and clients are the basis for making informed decisions throughout the design process, including the choice of shapes, materials, construction and system types.

Usually, to set up all the features of the site that we have detected during the research phase, we consider solar irradiation, we study shadows, we produce charts and diagrams about the access to the area, road network, public and private spaces, reference points, etc.

Schema di analisi del sito in architettura

scheme in architecture

Graphing these elements also means analyzing them to understand how they can influence project choices.

The study of the site in architecture consists of 3 specific phases: research, analysis, synthesis.


The research phase is the first approach to the study of a place and must consider all the present but also the past aspects that have changed or evolved over time.

Generally this information can be acquired through the combination of different sources:

  • historical maps and updated maps;
  • public facilities;
  • neighborhood and local associations;
  • local bibliography;
  • archives;
  • websites;
  • on-site inspections.

During the inspections it is necessary to collect all the information, including personal first impressions, sensory data, access points to the area and also involving the users who usually live in that area.

It is also necessary to make a geometric survey of the area, if detailed and updated plans are not available.

Finally, it is always useful to take many photographs, sketches and videos that will be useful several times even during the design phase.

After collecting the information, the results of the search should be examined.

This phase involves the study of all the relationships that exist between the various information, through a visual analysis (with the creation of diagrams, diagrams, etc.) and the putting into play of all the questions that will be solved in the project phase. Basically, you have to ask yourself: what have I learned from the site and how will it be useful to me for the project?

Although important, data collection is useless if it is for its own sake. The data collected, in fact, must be supportive of decisions. By combining the results of the research, the observations, the regulatory references, you will be ready to apply the results and start the concept phase and the design phase.

What does site analysis in architecture include?

Site analysis should include the climatic, geographical, historical, social, legal and infrastructural context of a given site.

There is no unambiguous way to represent this information but it certainly must not be missing:

  • annotated photographs;
  • sketches;
  • site mappings;
  • diagram analysis;
  • schemes.

Site diagrams and schemas are the tools that begin to illustrate the origins of the design process and then evolve into the project concept. They must represent what can be done and what are the essential conditions that influence the decision-making process.

To create GIS maps linked to BIM models, shared databases, schemes with territorial indicators (climatic conditions, seismic vulnerability, hydrogeological risk, logistics infrastructures and services, quality of the built, etc.), I recommend using a free and completely online BIM-GIS software.

BIM-GIS integration

BIM-GIS integration

With usBIM.gis you digitize all the information you would have written down on paper with the advantage of always having it available online, shareable with your collaborators, securely stored and editable or implementable when necessary. In addition, you can also associate BIM models on the map and this will be very useful even during the design phase.

What are the steps of site analysis?

Let’s see in detail what are the aspects that you must consider in the analysis phase of the site, here is a checklist:

  • Analyses
    • geographic location
    • site boundary
    • access to the area
    • site security
    • existing buildings
  • surrounding buildings
    • distances
    • heights
    • intended use
    • architectural styles and characteristics
    • views and lighting
    • regulations
    • acoustics
  • regulatory references
    • landscape, hydrogeological constraints, etc.
    • easements and rights of way
    • municipal, provincial, regional plans and national standards
  • accessibility
    • public and private roads
    • driveway accesses
    • pedestrian accesses
    • existing road network
  • topography
    • contour lines
    • soil characteristics
    • exposure
  • sunlight exposure
    • study of sunlight exposure at different times of the day and year
    • shading
  • wind exposure
    • prevailing direction
    • exposure
    • existing barriers
  • public transport
    • availability of bus stops, trains stations, subways stations, etc.
  • trees and vegetation
    • existing vegetation
    • dimensions of the root systems
    • green areas to be removed or maintaned
    • purposes of existing vegetation (barrier to wind and noise, privacy, shading, etc.)
  • ecology
    • protected species and areas
    • environmental risks assessments
  • site restrictions
    • visibility
    • neighbouring activities
    • pollution
    • areas subject to flooding, landslides, etc.
  • characteristics
    • strengths
    • points to be improved
    • points to hide
  • hazards
    • power lines, drains, telephone lines, sub-services, etc.
    • degraded areas
    • proximity to unfinished or unsafe structures.

This scheme will help you not to forget anything during the analysis phase and to make informed choices during the design and execution of the works.