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4 Essential Elements of Site Analysis

Site analysis is a crucial first step in creating a viable building design. Considering factors such as site location, topography, zoning regulations, traffic conditions, and climate allows a designer to maximize its inherent opportunities and anticipate any potential issues which may cause problems to the project. Here is a quick run-down on some key factors and ideas on assessing and getting the most value out of site analysis.

Factor One: Climate Trends 

Pritzker-winning architect Glenn Murcutt has been known for camping out at a site before starting the design to understand its climate and ecology — a feat that not all architects have the time to accomplish. Now we have 3D modeling technology that can provide insights into site conditions across the world. At the start of the design process, assessing your site through the lens of climatic factors such as sun paths, seasonal weather conditions, and predominant winds gives you the best chance of harnessing opportunities and mitigating against less favorable factors. Appropriately planning for these elements will contribute to a successful project. 

Tying into this, designers should consider the site's natural features: topography, vegetation, site levels, and soil types. 

With all this to consider, look for tools that provide crucial insights on shading and glazing, daylighting, and strategy suggestions to deliver the most value. Technology that provides these insights enables you to explore viable options, generate valuable content fast, and keep your designs moving forward. 

PreDesign helps you weave climate analysis into your design narrative and is an efficient way to kick off your design planning. PreDesign enables you to create an informed story about the climate for your design narrative. Using the ' Seasons overview ' feature, get a high-level summary of your site’s climate.  
Use this information at project onset and in your design discussions with the client and project team. 

PreDesign offers nifty features that filter through different combinations of glazing ratios and shading options

to present those most suitable for your project, based on an analysis of historical climate data for your site. That’s a pretty smart way to simplify and sharpen up your design process.

Factor Two: Social Considerations

Buildings are built for society. Designers want the lives of those using the building to be enriched positively. Therefore, considering how the build impacts factors in society should not be dismissed.  
Here are a few social factors to consider in your site analysis.


A building’s design and its construction impact lives and the environment, and good design should be delivered in such a way as to enhance the quality of life of users and the local community. Barton Malow Company used SketchUp to develop 3D and 4D models of Frostburg State University Education & Health Science Center to model and demonstrate site consideration to their client, local community, and existing users in detail without sacrificing speed, enabling accuracy and cost certainty.

Frostburg State University Education & Health Science Center construction sequence created from a Barton Malow SketchUp model.

The project team faced a few challenges --  part of the site would remain occupied during construction, and Barton Malow had to deliver the project at the start of the academic year, with the university due to welcome new students. The Virtual Design and Construction team overcame these unique challenges by leveraging the right technologies. Using SketchUp, the team developed 3D models early on in the process, exporting images to showcase the proposed build and stunning 4D animations for additional impact. Barton Malow phased and completed the project in such a way to ensure that its neighbors were not negatively impacted. 

Using SketchUp Scenes, Barton Malow illustrated the proposed build process, effectively communicating phasing, sequencing, safety, and logistics plans. The project phasing was necessary for Frostburg State University as it allowed students to live and study during construction. 

Site plans mapped out key areas such as access points, storage, and waste disposal facilities and ensured access points and construction material storage did not interfere with pedestrian or vehicular traffic. These plans were exported from SketchUp and optimized for display on site.

Using technology to figure out site paths, access, and construction phasing ensured successful project completion and minimal disruptions to existing building users and neighbors—a great example of building with the human element in mind! Read about the project here.


Community buy-in is important for creating integrated neighborhoods. Award-winning urban planning and development firm Houseal Lavigne Associates was able to foster this when they delivered an urban redevelopment plan for the downtown area of the City of Oshkosh to attract companies by designing and delivering a visually stunning urban redevelopment plan. The project was a striking success, garnering community support, catalyzing economic growth, promoting job creation, and instilling civic pride and community. 

Aerial view of the downtown redevelopment area. Image courtesy of Houseal Lavigne.

They brought the community and jobs closer to this formerly dilapidated waterfront amenity. The project team used SketchUp to quickly iterate and showcase value in response to community concerns. Houseal Lavigne Associates attributes its success to cultivating community buy-in and believes this is key to getting projects built. Technology is essential to their workflow — fast 3D modeling facilitates design development, and compelling renderings help planners and designers communicate effectively with clients and the community. After early sketches, the project team completes almost all of the design development phase in SketchUp. They believe that —with technology —urban planners have better metrics to calculate efficient and well-laid out cities, taking out the guesswork of urban planning.

For tips on modeling large-scale design projects, read this article that shares an expert's ten short and sweet tips. 


Well-considered buildings celebrate the culture of the surrounding community. Designers can ask questions such as, “Does the design enrich the lives of the community?” or “Does it address a local need?”. 

Lund and Slaatto Architects' goal is to create projects with lasting value for society and daily users of buildings. Their award-winning project, Ulstein Arena, creates a place for sport and activity and is a gathering place for the town of Ulsteinvik, where the surrounding landscape integrates with urban life. A crucial shipping industry defines the town’s cultural and material identity, and the project takes its material and formal cues from this. The multi-functional arena includes a large sports hall, a climbing wall, several swimming pools, and a library.

Exterior render of the Arena Ulstein project in SketchUp. Image courtesy of Lund+Slaatto.

Ulstein Arena is divided into two main volumes, which helps adapt the building to Ulsteinvik's small scale and dense urban structure. It meets the surrounding landscape on three levels and creates a series of new urban spaces directly connected to the town’s existing network of pedestrian paths. Locals can weave in, around, and out to get to school or shops. The buildings integrate with the culture of their environment and users.

Factor Three: Zoning and Regulation

There are various important aspects to cover in this area, such as right of way, site history, conservation status, listed building status, tree preservation orders, and meeting building performance regulations. Regardless of industry, sustainable resource consumption is a global priority. Building performance should be at the forefront of the design and construction process.  Thankfully, technology exists to help incorporate building performance analysis early in the design process where it has the most impact. 

Architectural Designer, Scott Miller at Remington Development Corporation, uses the SketchUp suite of tools to perfect the conceptual design process. "SketchUp is a very intuitive software that helps me expand on ideas, which is why I continue to use it. It enables me to offer our internal group and clients multiple design options quickly. I also use it to help our construction group understand the costs associated with the proposed designs while ensuring we meet local regulatory building codes."

Concept planning for Quarry Park Riverfront projects. Modeled in SketchUp and rendered using V-Ray. Image courtesy of Remington Development Corporation.

Scott uses SketchUp to review the location and dimensions for doors, stairs, and windows to ensure the buildings he is designing are up to building code standards.

‘Another benefit of using SketchUp is the ability to use Sefaira. During the conceptual stage, I assign values to walls, windows, and the foundation to review compliance with our national energy codes. Although these are high-level numbers, they give me — and our group or our client — a rough idea of the energy consumption based on the location's climate.’ 

Using Sefaira helps the team at Remington Corporation start a discussion backed by data. According to Miller, the analysis provides a basis to start meaningful conversations with their sustainability engineers. They can identify issues with energy loss through the building envelope, what their equipment/lighting power requirement limits are, and the minimum values for the construction assemblies and glazing systems. Once this building performance analysis is complete, Miller’s team sends their findings to their mechanical engineers for review. To learn more, read here.

Factor Four: Infrastructural 

Costly errors can be avoided when using the right technology to understand your existing site conditions, particularly the location of existing utilities and infrastructure. Construction company FMT AB’s success hinges on using interoperable tools; that is, technology that talks to other technology. FMT AB kicks off each project by sending a drone to collect point cloud data on-site. They use Scan Essentials, Trimble Business Centre, and RealWorks to import drone data and then, after some modifications, transfer it to SketchUp.

Point cloud scan created using Trimble products. Image courtesy of FMT AB.

“We can swiftly pull surfaces and textures between the different programs, direct layout on site from the design models, and coordinate designs from multiple sources through Trimble Connect for an easy, streamlined QA/QC workflow. This workflow benefits the whole construction process, making everyone on site, from the excavation team to the concrete contractor, work faster.”

FMT AB’s exclusive use of Trimble technologies makes the company an estimated 30% more efficient than its big-business competitors. Trimble Business Center provides accurate field-to-finish survey data; Trimble RealWorks is used to process and analyze point clouds to create high-quality customer deliverables; and Scan Essentials in SketchUp Studio. The latter takes the material world into 3D modeling, making it possible to model over point clouds and move back and forth between survey files in Trimble SiteVision or rendered images. This interoperability makes for an efficient process, saving time and streamlining the workflow.  Learn more about FMT AB’s process here.

Using point cloud data to represent the as-built condition. Image courtesy of Design Develop LLC.

Smart technology helps you avoid potential hazards and risks. Pointcloud scanning hardware like the Trimble X7 has total accuracy, giving you confidence and efficiency in your work as it assesses structural integrity. Architecture firm Design Develop LLC use SketchUp, Trimble X7, and Scan Essentials at the start of their workflow to streamline their projects. Firm principal Bob Pineo said,

“Combining Trimble products has helped grow our company exponentially. We use SketchUp, Trimble X7, and Scan Essentials to help streamline our workflow and grow our business. Incorporating this technology has been very straightforward, and the ability to iterate wasn’t sacrificed. Using the Trimble X7  is a fairly new part of our process and has saved us time and money. We used to hire this out with a third-party surveyor, and we’d always have issues with the files and getting the data promptly. Now we do this all in-house. We’ve even expanded our business by selling this service to other companies.”

To learn more about their workflow, read here.

Want to learn more about the tools referenced in this article? Check out this whitepaper, How to increase [your] constructible workflow efficiency with technology

Learn how to advance your workflow with SketchUp Studio:

Are you feeling inspired to design spaces with your own unique touch? Try a free trial of SketchUp for the powerful tools.

About the Author

When not writing content, Mahenoor can be found at the gym or exploring new places with friends and family. A love for hiking and traveling and experiencing new cultures and people leads her to weird and wonderful places. When not on holiday she enjoys learning and self-development.

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