The purpose of site design is to mediate the impact of built form on the world. Site design is consciously engaged in conspiring with the various realities of the site to suggest or limit form (this is readily distinct from, say, structural design). In the broadest sense, site design includes design done when the building – or any intervention – is considered not as an isolated object but as a specific piece of the world, both practically and theoretically.
So site design is concerned with, on the one hand, something like proper drainage; and, on the other, what water on a site means to inhabitation. In site design, the specific architectural identity of the site is established by analysis, either with a program in mind or in search of program, and architectural interventions are suggested or controlled as a consequence of that analysis. While site design addresses issues ranging from the layout of parking to the history of landscape making, it actually describes an underlying design agenda (conspiring with the various realities of the site to suggest or limit form).
Site design necessarily includes a variety of subject matters, and these are wide-ranging enough to warrant the inclusion of two types of site design tests on the licensing exam (one written and one graphic). Site design is affected by many bodies of knowledge, including architectural design and its histories, landscape architecture and its histories, civil engineering, sociology, anthropology, geology, biology, real estate, planning, environmental planning, civics, government, etc., so this course is really "an introduction to site design.” Critically, "site" and "design" are terms that have been substantially redefined in relationship to each other over the past twenty-five years. Consequently "site design" as an understood activity has also changed, and we will explore this evolution.
The intentions of this course are:
- to give you an overview of the factors and forces at work in architectural site design, with particular concentration on the various concerns which develop from the site.
- to provide you with necessary rudimentary technical knowledge and experience in the analysis and manipulation of site factors.
- to prepare you for the Site Design portions of the A. R. E., the licensing exam, which tests a specific type of site design ability.
- to explore what "site design" is becoming due to reconsideration of the value of landscape and the architect's concerns and responsibilities to landscape.
This course is divided into two parts, the first of which focuses on pragmatic aspects of site design, the second of which focuses on cultural considerations of the role of site in architectural design. These are closely linked – there is no technique without a cultural agenda, and vice versa. In Part I of the course we will concentrate on aspects of site design arising from the realities of the actual, physical site, including: legal definition and measure; legal restrictions; topography and climate; access, utilities, parking, and site circulation; grading and drainage; and how each of these determines inhabitation.
The thrust of this portion of the course is to prepare you practically. Many of the issues to be covered in Part I do not translate well into lecture form. Grading, for example, is something you have to learn by doing: no amount of talking or explaining will make a huge difference. There will be a series of lectures on the technical topics, their architectural consequences, and a series of associated exercises with explanatory readings. Many of these exercises are drawn from the Licensing Exam. The bulk of the exercise type work for this course occurs during the first half. There will be an exam on this portion of the course just before midterm.
During the second half of the course we will give as broad a definition to the word "site" as possible, and look at the consequences of this broad redefining on design. While this may seem odd, it is appropriate. We tend to imagine that the processes of site design are used on certain kinds of sites, typically those where the ratio of land to building is quite large, or those where the site presents certain physical difficulties (like steep slope), or those set in fairly undisturbed natural surroundings. But the processes of site design apply to all sites, urban or rural, real or imaginary, physical or not, and the change in the value of site over the past twenty five years means that no architectural undertaking can ignore site.
During this second part of this course you will be doing extensive reading, discussion session work, and will be undertaking a several analysis problems to further your understanding. Aside from the readings and exercises, there will be a written final covering this portion of the course. Note that we will only briefly be reviewing the history of site design in a conventional linear way in this course. But we will be looking at various historical examples throughout the course. Still, this is not a course in landscape architecture or landscape planning. The focus of this course is the relationship of buildings to their landscapes.