This is the 3rd of twenty-one lessons for design students, gathered from the combined experience of being a student, and teaching students. I will published one lesson each weekday until they’re done.
3. Site analysis uses the language of your ideas
You site down with a site plan spread out in front of you. You draw in the north point, solar paths, access routes, wind direction, desire lines and views. Your site analysis is full of colour and rich in detail. With all the knowledge that it contains, you are ready to begin massing in your building.
But this site analysis is rudimentary at best. It might be sufficient if you’re in your first or second year of study, but if you’re my student (and hence well into your Masters), it represents only the tiniest fraction of exploration you need to undertake. Much of what you’ve just drawn is already known to me. I know where the sun rises and sets, where access paths and viewlines are likely to be. Your analysis needs to be specific to your project, to tell me things I can’t work out on my own.
Site analysis, curiously enough, begins with ideas.
I recognise the catch-22 of this comment: you need to finish your site analysis before you develop your ideas, but you can’t do your site analysis until you’ve had some ideas.
If your project is an interfaith centre combining Synagogue, Church and Mosque, and your ideas are about the weaving of these separate faiths into a cooperative whole, then your site analysis should be concerned with acts of weaving. Are there geological strata that can be teased apart? Or view corridors that overlap and intersect? Can you identify massing opportunities based on idealised paths of pedestrian travel? Or programme arrangements based on threads and knots?
If your project is a retrospective architectural biography of Wikileaks, and your ideas are about secrecy and transparency, then your analysis should interpret your site in these terms. Can you intervene in your urban site in ways that are hidden or transient? Can you hack the city to steal the resources you need to build? Can you reinterpret existing typologies, subtly modifying them to accommodate your new insertions?
- Site analysis uses the language of your ideas, author’s own image.