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How an Architectural Site Analysis Can Help You Realize Intangible Design Opportunities

By Maria Lorena Lehman — Get more articles like this sent to your email HERE.

Image Credit: © brendan skinner | Flickr

You can work with your building’s surroundings by repressing them, hiding from them, celebrating them, juxtaposing them, making fun of them, uplifting them, supporting them, replacing them, improving them, or even changing them. Look beyond your building’s immediate site, to analyze that which surrounds it. Look at what is permanent and semi-permanent, and at that which is intangible – like the surrounding culture. These issues can inform your architectural site analysis too.

So the next time you are trying to get to the core of your design problem for a particular project, take a moment (or better yet, a physical trip) out to explore what surrounds your building’s site. After all, your building may have a physical site boundary, but it can visually be seen from much further — and thus, experienced from vantage points which you may not consider if you do not extend your own perspective beyond your own site’s boundary.

I mention this because there are times when an architect is asked to design a building within a context that may be challenging because of its unique peculiarities. For instance, during an extensive site analysis you may discover that there are noise issues coming from afar during certain times of day or night that will affect functionality within your building design. Another example is that there may be advertisements or cultural artwork within the surrounding area — it will be up to you, whether to celebrate that culture or dismiss it as you formulate your architectural solution to your site.

There are many factors that come into play regarding an architectural site analysis, but I think it may be important for you to understand (as you are coming up with solutions to your architectural design) what the collective perception is of what is currently on your building site (or what once was there). People that live within the surrounding area often have a certain perception, and even feeling, or better yet an opinion about the site where you will build. And I think as an architect you should be aware of any collective perception that may be out there about your future building site.

I’m not saying that you should be limited to the perceptions of others with regard to the site awaiting your design, but I do think you will formulate a better design concept if you understand the different and sometimes intangible dimensions to the site where you will build. Use that as a springboard to think outside of the box by still being true to your own design style, but still solve for local challenges, opportunities and needs.

Your architectural site analysis is important for many reasons. And key among those is that it presents you with many clues which together add up to help you determine what design opportunities and challenges you can solve, leverage and build upon. A good architectural site analysis gives you a peek into the underlying “personality” of where you will build — and that may just spark your own best innovative architectural design solution.

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what members are saying...
Maria: I came across your website through a reference in today's Architect Weekly ezine and am delighted I did. I'll bookmark your site and check back often. I read the first article and then the second and thirty minutes later realized how much time had passed. I've been practicing for thirty years and have always missed the stimulation of academia. I find each of your brief dissertations sort of like a day in design studio. Thanks for the inspiration.

Ron Ward
AI Group Design
I am excited to see you touch a vein of values in architecture, I have been chasing myself for years. Your depth of involvement in these very deep subjects is really beautiful and passionately dealt with and well written. Sound, color and value, shape, texture, scale, smell.... all definitive measures of the spaces we should be alert to. [...] I will savor the rest of your investigation of sensuality in architecture. I'm Glad I found you.

Dennis McLaughlin
McLaughlin Architect
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Maria Lorena Lehman is a multi award-winning visionary author, designer, and educator from the United States. Maria holds a Bachelor of Architecture with Honors from Virginia Tech and a Master in Design with Distinction from Harvard University Graduate School of Design. CLICK HERE to learn more.

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