Site analysis or site study is the most important part of the initial design process. It applies to architectural design as well as urban design projects. Context study, as we use it frequently, is the surroundings and its insights that we can use in our design. As rainfall, the slope of the site, wind direction, sun path, etc. are a few of the points we consider while doing our site analysis, the urban site study involves pedestrian footfall, vehicular movement, built form or urban fabric, climatology, stakeholders, municipal authorities and jurisdictions, etc. It involves a larger spectrum and hence is a more complicated and time-consuming process to execute. It involves and affects a larger panorama of people at a time, and in the daily course of life.
Below are a few points to consider while going about the urban site study –
1. History of the place
While doing an urban site study, it is important to know the historical details of that place; the lifestyles, the mode of transport, the average time people spend outside, the evolution of that place, change in the built form over time, etc. It helps have a concrete base for the conceptualization in the design process. It also gives a good insight into interventions done earlier, to analyze what suits and is convenient for the people.
2. Geographic location and its insights
The geographical location of an urban site plays a vital role in orienting the interventions. It gives a relatively clearer idea of natural factors like rainfall, wind direction, wind speed, humidity, slopes and terrain, landscape, etc. It helps in understanding the surroundings and their impact on our site and interventions in detail.
Eg. A site in the northeast of India (Himachal Pradesh) will have potentials and insights completely different from the one in the southwest part (Kerala). The responses to these two will be different and the factors to consider will differ as well. For instance, Kerala will have heavy rainfall and will need a solution to address it, whereas Himachal Pradesh will have an issue of extreme temperatures and snow, and will need a solution to those.
3. Figure-ground plan
A figure-ground plan highlights the built mass in the site extent, leaving out the unbuilt portions white, to have a clear idea of the volumes of the urban fabric. It allows us to study the pattern in the built mass, open spaces, road network, used and unused spaces, etc. It also helps understand the typology of buildings, their immediate interactive surface with the street and surroundings, the relationship of houses with open spaces and squares, etc.
Volumetric analysis of the entire site should also be done to know the feasibility of proposing a particular thing at a particular location. sun path and shading across the day and the year must be studied, the annual rainfall, wind speeds, and velocities must be documented as well.
4. Open spaces and vegetation
Open spaces within a neighborhood are the breathing voids, they are the junctions or gathering/congregational spaces for social activities like common water taps, play parks, gardens, newspaper stalls, bird feeders, paan shops, street lights, anything functions as a small open space. These are the organically formed ones by mere use by the people and the repetitive pattern in which it is used. Other open spaces are the playgrounds, recreational parks, gardens, stadiums, public plazas, etc. which are more of a planned type.
Studying these open spaces helps us come up with a reasonable intervention that is in sync with the behavior of the people there, their lifestyle, their movement patterns, etc. It helps us understand where people spend their time after work, or where the women work during the day, in a particular setting.
Studying vegetation will give an idea of what all parts of the site are shaded during what time of the day. It will help understand what kind of flora is available locally and how can it be used to its benefit on the site if need be. Indigenous trees are more likely to survive and must be documented if there are any.
5. Existing urban fabric
A study of the existing fabric, or the built environment, will throw light on the character of the built mass, the architectural style, the heights, massing and volumes, materials, projections on to the street, its interaction with the public domain, the kind of life accommodated within the built fabric and how as a whole it constitutes a part of the urban context.
The vernacular houses in China, Tolou of the Hakka people are a very distinct typology and style. It’s interesting to study the lifestyle of the people in such houses and their interaction with their surrounding areas.
Certain areas will have a tight compact fabric while others might have a scattered one. Urban fabric or the urban form will help one understand densities, the health numbers, the lifestyle, and the distribution of amenities like schools, municipal healthcare, markets, etc.
6. Connectivity – Public/Private transportation
It is important to know how your urban site is connected to the rest of the city or the town or its neighboring areas. And before making any intervention it would be always recommended to have good transport connectivity to the area or your site, in any form; bus rail, etc.
The mode of transport should be universally accessible and affordable to all. It should also be convenient for people to commute to other locations from the site.
Study current modes of the daily commute, in all terms. Know the shortfall if there is any, and provide for it. Check if there are special provisions for women and children. Check if there are more eased-out facilities for the elderly.
7. Mobility – Within and around the site
Mobility is the way people move around within the neighborhood and between two neighborhoods. The alleys, the lanes, the junctions, squares thus formed and the activities along each of these are substantially important to study in detail.
People will want to visit a place if it is well connected by public transportation or any other mode. Better connectivity, more people, and a lively place. Understanding the existing modes of transport and connectivity will be important to make specific interventions.
While moving around within the site, there will have to be narrower lanes that facilitate pedestrian flow and restrict any vehicular movement. In turn, there would be user-friendly street furniture, ample street illumination, and activities that will keep the place lively. Needs of a pedestrian; all age groups, will have to be studied in detail – behavioral pattern, comfortable walking distance, pause required, general length covered while walking recreational/essential both, etc.
8. Existing land use
Current land/building use on a site will be interesting to study as it will give an idea of why that activity came up there specifically and what makes it stay. What makes a residential neighborhood be one and how does it function.
A study of land use is done to understand what activity has been active on the site and what might work better if not the current one. It gives an idea if there are any reservations made on the site by the development authority, or if there are any designated uses that need to be implemented on-site.
It would be interesting to study how different land uses function together and as an inference, it would be right to say that mixed land use functions better. Referring to the development plan of that city or town would be a recommendation.
9. Contours and levels
Contours help us in knowing the levels of a particular site. Information on levels helps in placing plazas and public open spaces and connecting them. It helps in the planning of the built mass and the use of volumes.
A site will be treated differently depending on its levels and slopes. A flat site might be relatively easier to deal with than a sloping one. too many level differences will be a barrier in making the design universally accessible and thus needs to be dealt with a different approach.
Levels will help in proposing overhead water tanks, and the necessary piping work to reach all households. It will also help in understanding if rainwater can be collected at some point to make the site self-sufficient in terms of its water requirement.
10. Utilities and services running underground/at grade
Understanding the levels will help while making interventions on urban sanitation; services and utilities. Negligence at these levels can affect the utilities immensely. Knowledge of the sewer lines, water supply lines, wastewater outlets, etc. is a must while proposing the same. Knowing how the services and utilities run, underground or at grade, makes it easier at the proposal stage and hence should be done in detail.
Deep sewers and water supply lines need to be identified at the analytical stage to make appropriate interventions. It is also important to know how the wastewater is taken out of the site, is it treated primarily, or directly let out in any water body. Simultaneously it is necessary to know where the drinking water comes from, is it a municipal supply, do people have to travel a distance to fulfill their drinking water requirement, etc.
Attempts should be made to treat the waste at the source, at least a primary treatment should be provided for within or around the site at an appropriate location. Solid waste collection should also be studied, and the necessary provisions should be made.
A good site analysis allows the designer to improve the project, ensuring that the site makes the best use of the resources, such as light, access, views, on the site as possible. It should also allow the designer to anticipate any potential issues which may cause problems for the project.