A comprehensive site assessment is a critical step that you want to complete before the design process of any project. Without it, you are not taking full advantage of the site you’ve chosen for your project. Not to be confused with an Environmental Site Assessment (Phase I ESA), which mostly looks at risks associated with the site, a pre-design site assessment primarily looks at the assets of your site so that you can maximize the effectiveness of your design—programmatic and monetary.
What do you look for?
A site assessment should evaluate the full range of physical, biological and cultural opportunities on your site. This should include anything from regional transit networks to interesting or historic site landmarks. A full inventory of existing site materials will allow you to maximize the reuse potential of those materials. Detailed soil and vegetation mapping will allow you to control invasive species and protect important plant communities. Climate and watershed analysis can lead to smarter, more energy-efficient buildings and better stormwater management.
But in order for the site assessment to positively influence your design, it has to be done early enough, and it has to include the right expertise. Depending on your site, the integrated team involved in the process should include professionals knowledgeable in a variety of areas, including soil and vegetation, hydrology, materials, landscape ecology, human health and well-being and more.
How do we fit in?
Recognizing the importance of a site assessment to sustainable design, we have featured pre-design site assessment as a fundamental requirement in the newly available SITES v2 Rating System for sustainable landscape design, development and maintenance The pre-design site assessment prerequisite acts as a road map for much of the rating system, not to mention the project itself. This concept has also been introduced as a new optional credit in a suite of LEED v4 rating systems. If done right, your site assessment could achieve the requirements outlined in both SITES v2 and LEED v4.
A well-developed site assessment conducted before or during the conceptual design phase can reduce your project’s costs, maximize your sustainability goals, promote occupant health and honor your site’s unique characteristics.