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From Rousseau’s rural utopia to the latest Earth Day activities, it is clear that

mankind is working toward achieving a better understanding of his relationship with nature.

This concern can be seen in various architectural practices: Frank Lloyd Wright’s organic

architecture shows the ecological principles of building designs that are integrated with the

site and local materials. Similarly, the geologically striated mass and irregularly contoured

walls of Alvar Aalto’s villa designs reflect his concern of human activities to conform with

the intrinsic nature of the site and the modification of the environment. In addition to these

attempts in architectural practices, systematic and integrated examination also leads to new

ecological movements and disciplines. In the mid-nineteenth century, landscape architecture

became a new branch of architecture; it re-discovered the value of nature, and tried to focus

on the visual, psychological, and spiritual influences of the natural environment. Unlike

building design, landscape architecture design focuses upon planning the entire arrangement

of a site, including the location of buildings, grading, stormwater management, construction,

and planting.

Both landscape architects and architects are involved in site analysis, while urban

design or land development addresses a larger scale, such as cities and regions. Building

sites are the smallest units in a broad range of spatial scales. Although buildings are the

primary focal point for architectural design, their relationship to sites and other structures

should also be a concern. Thus, many professions are engaged in site analysis and planning

process. Current curricula of architectural schools and organizational structures of the

building industry suggest that there are at least five important components in the design

process: aesthetic concerns, culture, environment, structure and materials, and economics and

social/political influence. These components are also applicable to the site analysis process.

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To ascertain the value of site analysis, it is necessary to consider several definitions.

Most definitions divide the process into various steps. Some specify the steps practically,

from site selection to building location, and to utility placement (Figure 1-1a). Others

consider it as a “systematic, and often iterative, sequence of steps” (LaGro, 2001). These

steps include site selection, inventory, analysis, concept development, and design

implementation (Figure 1-1b). Figure 1-1c shows Lynch’s definition. He notes that site

planning as

the art of arranging the external physical environment to support human behavior. It

lies along the boundaries of architecture, engineering, landscape architecture, and city

planning, and it is practiced by members of all these professions. Site plans locate

structures and activities in three-dimensional space and, when appropriate, in time

(Lynch, 1971, p.1).

Figure 1-1 Three different definitions of site analysis

Theoretical discussions about the site analysis process are also implemented into

design practices and the development of computer tools. McHarg (1969) established








Select a site













(a) practical steps

(b) LaGro’s definition

(c) Lynch’s definition

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guidelines for choosing sites for urban development in various geographic locations,

especially in metropolitan areas. Using mapping and measurement techniques, he identified

eight natural processes related to land use. The basic information includes data on climate,

geology, physiography, hydrology, pedology, vegetation, wildlife habitats, and land use.

Then, after establishing a quantification system to interpret the data, he mapped the relevant

factors to show the results. Landscape architects and architects widely used McHarg’s

methods, which are also shown in state-of-the-art computer mapping tools (Chapter 4).

A large number of systems have been developed to analyze building sites and

buildings. These often focus on the environment; more specifically, they introduce, promote,

and guide the principles of sustainability. One good example is the Leadership in Energy and

Environmental Design (LEED) rating system promoted by the US Green Building Council

(USGBC). The LEED uses prerequisites and a performance-based credit system tailored to

individual regions, site locations, and building types. When rating the sustainable sites, there

are eight credit sections: “site selection, urban redevelopment, brownfield redevelopment,

alternative transportation, reduced site disturbance, stormwater management, landscape and

exterior design to reduce heat islands, and light pollution reduction.”


Similar analysis tools

for smaller residential buildings are also available and can be referenced on the Department

of Energy (DOE) website.

Other group of tools is based on geographic information systems (GIS). For example,

Scenario Constructor in CommunityViz


can model several options for a proposed building

project at different locations. It offers quantitative impact analysis capabilities and performs

a “spatial spreadsheet” with numerical computations on geographic data in real time. It also

allows the project team to sketch alternative land-use scenarios and evaluate their

implications for the community objectives and constraints (Chapter 4).


Limitations of Existing Methods and Tools

However, the methods and tools for analysis as described above suffer from several

limitations. Today’s architectural design process involves many participants, including


More information can be found at the US Green Building Council website: http://www.usgbc.org.


For more information, please check the website of CommunityViz at http://www.communityviz.com.

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architects, engineers, governmental agencies, developers, clients, and the general public. The

information and knowledge involved in this process have become increasingly complex, and

have a wider spectrum. Thus, integrated systems and effective management methods within

a guided framework are urgently needed. For designers, this requirement not only suggests

buildings as integrated systems, but also leads to an extended design process, starting with

site selection and evaluation. A similar paradigm shift has already happened in the broader

field of environmental planning. Both the Ecosystems Approach and Landscape Ecology

models signify the advancement from a general systems ecological framework. These are

two examples of the recent integration of natural, physical, and biological dimensions with

historical, cultural, and socioeconomic aspects. However, the integration of different analysis

tools in the design process in general, and in site analysis and selection in particular, does not

have a specific formulation.

The comprehensive connection between different design stages is also hard to achieve

in terms of using computer tools. A wide range of professionals, technicians, and builders

participate in the development process over time. Professionals contribute to the project

based on their own expertise, but often fail to communicate and coordinate with others.

Therefore, their mismatched computer data formats and terminology become problematic.

It is also hard to find a tool based on existing projects that has been proven useful

over time. The situation is severe for problems and issues that relate to social and cultural

factors, because these issues are complex and difficult to analyze using computer programs.

The uniqueness of particular projects also makes developing a general computer program

even more challenging. Almost all tools only “support” site selection; they do not make final

decisions for users. With the development of high-speed and high capacity computers,

modern expert systems may use knowledge modules and inference engines to account for

both human activity and natural process models, and support complex decision-making (Brail

and Klosterman, 2000).

Additionally, the environmental aspects are defined ambiguously in the complex site

analysis and selection process. Since the 1950s, various publications have presented issues

and design approaches aimed at environmental integration. Several frequently used terms,

such as ecology, sustainability, green architecture, and renewable energy, are defined as


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Ecology, according to Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, is defined as a

branch of science concerned with the interrelationship or pattern of relations of

organisms and their environments. It studies resource and energy management in

the biosphere and its sub-categories. Zeiher (1996) argues that the balance of

ecology can be influenced by the design and construction of architecture whether

or not people respect the ecological concept.

To understand sustainability, the most widely quoted definition should be

introduced first: “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of

the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their

own needs” (Brudtland, 1987, p.43). The sustainable design is an architectural

approach to environmental, social, and economic issues of the individual and to

communities that requires all three to work together now and in the future.

Green architecture is a term used to describe energy-efficient, environmentally-

friendly buildings and developments by effectively managing natural resources.

Green building principles encourage resource conservation, consider

environmental impacts and waste minimization; build a healthy and comfortable

environment, reduce operation and maintenance costs, and address community

infrastructure issues


. The LEED program developed by USGBC not only defines

the green building idea but also measures the concept, the “greenness of a


Renewable energy refers to energy resources that occur naturally and repeatedly

in the environment and can benefit human activities. Renewable energy systems

include solar, wind, and geothermal energy. Trees and plants, rivers, and even

garbage are also considered renewable energy resources.

Environmental integration touches on all the above-mentioned aspects and integrates

elements from each of them. Its fundamental principles emphasize the basic aspects of the

natural environment, including climate, physiography, hydrology, vegetation, and the lives of

the inhabitants.

Some researchers also look to ancient philosophy as both an alternative and

complement to contemporary environmental design. Indigenous people used land to define


See DOE’s Smart Communities Network Project at http://www.sustainable.doe.gov/buildings/gbintro.shtml.

Page 6


their existence and identity. For them “the trees, plants, animals, and fish, which inhabit the

land are not ‘natural resources,’ but highly personal beings which form part of their social

and spiritual universe” (Davis, 1993, p.1). Similarly, the ancient Chinese developed feng

shui, an evaluation system that examines the sites of cities and determines the desirable

layouts of buildings. It has been practiced for more than three thousand years in China.

Currently, architects of several major projects in Western societies consider input from the

feng shui experts on architectural and interior design. However, even the Chinese, who are

familiar with ancient Eastern literature and philosophy, often have difficulty understanding

basic feng shui concepts and methods of application. Furthermore, the comparison between

contemporary and traditional environmental design principles and the possible incorporation

of the two are still not a common concern.


Objective Statement

A review of existing methods and computer tools shows that an integrated framework

for site analysis and selection is currently needed, so that preferable building sites can be

automatically selected and a detailed analysis report generated. Any new methodology

should consider the drawbacks of existing methods and computer tools. After a careful

reviewing of the related research, this study will answer the following questions:

1. Can a framework be defined to analyze site conditions in the design process?

a. What are the commonalities for the understanding of the world through

architectural design?

b. What are the major components in the framework? What are the relations among

these components?

c. What is the relationship between site analysis and the entire architectural design


2. What are the environmental factors that should be considered?

a. In what ways do feng shui and contemporary environmental design theories


b. What insights would a comparison between feng shui and contemporary

environmental theory yield?

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c. How can the environmental component in a site be implemented?

d. How will the changes of the environmental factors influence other factors and the

structure of the framework?

Thus, the purpose of the research is to develop a framework for the evaluation and

selection of the most desirable housing sites – those sites achieving a balance between man

and nature, the building and its surroundings. Within the structure of this framework, the

environmental components will be explored in detail. We will identify the major factors,

compare feng shui and contemporary principles, and emphasize the integration of

environmental factors into architectural design. This framework will help designers and

developers recognize the importance of the site as part of a holistic design process.

The proposed methodology is based on several existing site analysis and selection

models. On one hand, the research presented in this dissertation attempts to define a

framework that can expand those models and incorporate each component in an organized

structure. Thus, the framework will be a comprehensive structure, but will remain flexible

and open in terms of its components. Impacts that are currently hard to define or estimate

could also be added into the framework in the future. A quick analysis for a small site may

only involve a few components; a sophisticated estimate for a complicated project may

include more analyses. On the other hand, the implementation of the environmental

component supports the proposed framework. Research on major factors within the

component can help to clarify the definition of the environmental issues related to site

analysis and building design. The component combines the environmental knowledge with

an interface design. The computer simulation will demonstrate the decision-making process,

as well as provide useful information for designers and decision-makers.

The following tasks will be needed to fulfill the research objective:

1. A study of the design method and process;

2. A review of principles and theories related to environmental design;

3. Development of an integrated site analysis framework;

4. A review of existing methods and tools;

5. Implementation of the framework with a computer simulation program;

6. Demonstration of the framework through data collection and analysis for the study


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7. A discussion on results generated from the computer program.


Scope of Research

This research proposes a holistic site analysis framework for residential development.

A review of related literature shows that site analysis for program-determined projects

includes physical inventory, biological inventory, cultural inventory, and analysis (LaGro,

2001). Common methods for programming, such as document analysis, behavioral

observation, historical and current aerial photographs, and zoning maps, may also support

decision-making. Figure 1-2 shows the overall framework of a site analysis model and the

scope of this research. The highlighted boxes are the focal points. Among the many

components of the overall framework, this research concentrates on environmental aspects,

as is shown on box one of Figure 1-2. Regarding the environment, the research collects and

analyzes climatic, geologic, hydrologic, topographic, and vegetation information (boxes two

and three, Figure 1-2). More detailed analyses address the four correlated factors of

bioclimatic design (box six, Figure 1-2), as well as four landform components: slope, aspect

elevation, and hillshade (box seven, Figure 1-2).


Research Limitations

The work utilizes knowledge and skills from multi-disciplinary subjects, a case study

using Reston, Virginia, and computer programming implementation. Time restrictions and

technical limitations are raised through the research. In general, the longer the collection

time for data such as the climatological data, the more comprehensively and reliably the data

will reflect particular building sites. For this research, 45 weather stations


are located in

240,000 acres, 32 times bigger than Reston, the study area, which is located in the center of

the weather stations. However, only a half of these weather stations were installed and

operated in 2001, which affects the interpolation


accuracy. Thus, the collected climatic data


Weather stations were provided by AWS, Inc.


Interpolation is a term used in mathematics and GIS. It estimates unknown values by taking an average of

known values at neighbouring points.

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Environmental Categories

Box 1 (category)












Box 2 category)


Box 3 (category)






Box 4 (category)

Land Use






Box 5 (factor)


Native &




Box 6 (factor)




Wind speed

& direction



Box 9 (factor)



Dew point

Box 8 (factor)






Box 7 (factor)




Scope of research

Reference to the factors in the


Beyond scope of research





Figure 1-2 Site analysis framework and scope of Research

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covers different weather conditions throughout a year, from April 2002 to March 2003.

Although the data only presents the weather conditions in a specific year, enough data was

collected to successfully calibrate the analysis framework and computer program


Technical limitations were experienced in three areas. First of all, the collected data

should give a comprehensive representation of the physical conditions of Reston. However,

data collected from the weather stations does not contain solar radiation information. The

available radiation information is produced by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory

(NREL) of the U.S. Department of Energy


. It compiles solar radiation data from five

stations in Virginia. One of these, the Sterling station, is nine miles away from Reston; and

the Richmond station is 114 miles away. Therefore, hourly radiation data sets from the

Sterling station are used to complete the data sets from these 45 stations.

The second limitation is the mapping size. The topography data provided by the

Fairfax county GIS and Mapping department uses five-foot contour intervals. Because of the

limited calculation time and capacity of current computer technology, it is difficult to

interpolate the climatic data using the same grid size. Therefore, the climatic data is

interpolated in a 50 ft. by 50 ft. grid. It is fine enough to analyze lot sites for single-family

houses in Reston, which range from 5000 sq.ft. to 87000 sq.ft.



Finally, feng shui is historically applied to site selection of cities, towns and villages,

buildings, and tombs. However, this research only addresses the application of feng shui to

buildings. The implementation of feng shui is also based on the findings of other

researchers, which summarize the fundamental feng shui principles and survey of historical

buildings. Thus, the feng shui criteria used in this research will be limited in certain areas.


Organization of Dissertation

The dissertation is presented in seven chapters. This chapter, Chapter One

(Introduction), lays out background information, reviews existing methods and tools, and


More information about solar radiation data can be found at http://rredc.nrel.gov/solar/old_data/nsrdb/tmy2/


The number is calculated from the zoning map of Reston with the residential district regulations from Fairfax

country government (http://www.co.fairfax.va.us/dpz/PDF_files/Ordinance/art03.pdf)

Page 11


addresses research questions and objectives. It also discusses the scope and limitations of the


Chapter Two (Design Methods and Process) reviews the basic concepts of design

problems, methods, and process. It also presents the pertinent research on site analysis, and

discusses its position in the design process.

Chapter Three (Feng Shui and Contemporary Environmental Design Principles)

reviews contemporary environmental design principles and feng shui theories and

applications. It also compares feng shui to contemporary environmental design principles.

Finally, it outlines the major environmental factors that should be considered.

Chapter Four (A Site Analysis Framework) discusses the concept, components, and

structures involved in an integrated site analysis model. This chapter also highlights the

environmental factors in the framework, and describes implementation strategies. Then, it

reviews existing methods and tools. Finally, this chapter introduces the implementation of a

computer simulation tool, SiteOne.

Chapter Five (Case Study Using SiteOne in Reston) presents the different collection

and analysis methods for climatic, topographical, hydrological, and vegetation data. The

analysis procedures of the climatic data include deriving overall hourly data from individual

local weather stations, generating temperature and relative humidity data sets, interpolating

point data to grid data, and finally, applying comfort zone criteria to these data sets. This

chapter also presents the analysis results from single categories as well as the overall

outcome, which is based on SiteOne.

Chapter Six (Proof of Concept: Site Analysis by Professionals) demonstrates how

professionals can use the proposed framework in site analysis. This study also uses the

results from the interviews to validate the SiteOne results. It summarizes the differences

between the interview results and the SiteOne results and analyzes the possible causes of

these discrepancies.

Chapter Seven (Conclusion and Discussion) discusses the results presented in the

previous chapters, and summarizes general concepts and guidelines for a comprehensive site

analysis framework. It also suggests future research that may extend the concept and

implementation of the integrated site analysis framework.