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,
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
. 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
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.
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.
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
b. What are the major components in the framework? What are the relations among
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?
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
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).
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.
Box 1 (category)
SITE ANALYSIS FRAMEWORK
Box 2 category)
Box 3 (category)
Box 4 (category)
Box 5 (factor)
Box 6 (factor)
Box 9 (factor)
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
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)
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
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.