Site Planning: A Simple Guide for Architects


Architects simply can’t do their jobs without doing some site planning. Whether you realize it or not, if you’re an architect, you have probably created an architectural site plan.

But did you do it right? Did you meet the highly specific requirements of site planning in architecture? You’re about to find out. Read on to learn everything you need to know about site plans for architects including:

What is Site Planning?

Site planning is the part of the architectural process where you organize access to the plot of land, drainage and gradients, privacy, and, importantly, the layout of all of the structures planned for the property.

An architectural site plan is not the same thing as a floor plan. Floor plans provide a layout for a single structure, while site plans show the positioning of every structure on a parcel, as well as foundational aspects of the land itself like slopes, drainage, tree cover, and more.

Site planning tends to occur early in the architectural design process because it gives you a wide-frame video of what is going to be required to complete the project.

What Are Architectural Site Plans Used for?

Architectural site plans are used for various early-stage applications in the building process. While they do not establish exactly what the structures on the property will look like, site plans do show where the buildings will be and how big they will be. This makes them useful for zoning permit applications.

Meanwhile, the broad view of a property that a site plan can provide can be handy when you are attempting to describe to a client or colleague your ideas for the development of that parcel.

Of course, it’s important to remember that site planning is just one part of the process. The site plan itself will be one of many drawings used in the development of the parcel at hand.

What’s Included in an Architectural Site Plan?

Site planning in architecture applications can be somewhat loosely defined. That’s because each architect or other professional has their own ideas of what needs to be included in a site drawing at this early stage.

Site plan designed with Cedreo

In general, however, there are a few pieces of visual and textual information that need to make an appearance on any architectural site plan. These include the following:

  • The project’s title
  • A clear definition of the type of drawing this is
  • The address of the parcel of land
  • The scale of the drawing
  • The boundaries of the site
  • Key dimensions of items like the structures on the property
  • Levels and gradients
  • The north point of the property
  • Locations of landscape features like trees or water
  • A listing of any legal orders that could affect the development of the property (such as tree protection orders or historical district rules)
  • Roads surrounding the property
  • Access points for the site
  • Parking areas
  • Any existing buildings on the site that will need to be removed
  • Existing landscape features that will need to be removed
  • Service hookups for utilities like water, electricity, gas and more
  • External sources of light or planned sources
  • Fences and gates
3D Site plan designed with Cedreo

Important Site Planning Considerations

Site planning is a key part of the planning process for any property. However, before you can dive into architectural site planning, you have to consider some important factors about the area itself and what surrounds it.

Here are some of the factors you will need to account for when planning any site:

Natural Factors

If your plan is to build something that’s in direct opposition to the nature that surrounds it, you are going to lose. Nature always wins, so consider the natural factors of the area, including everything from insect concentrations to wind and weather conditions. Your best bet is to plan a property that works with the nature surrounding it — not against it.


Is the property you are attempting to develop quite rocky? And if so, what kinds of rocks are present? The answers to these questions will not just determine whether you can develop the land in the way you would like, but how you actually will go about it. For example, some rock sheets below the soil’s surface can be impenetrable in some cases or act as unbelievably solid foundations in others.


What’s already on the land you’re hoping to build on? You’ll need to include all of these features in your site planning. That doesn’t mean they have to stay in the final site plan, but your site planning should account for what you will do with the topographical features like hills, valleys and the like.


A quick surveying of the surface of the property will likely reveal surface water features like streams, rivers, ponds and lakes, but there is much more to consider when it comes to hydrography in your site plan. For instance, what about subsurface water? The depth and stability of the water table will have profound effects on any structure you plan to build. Additionally, you will need to account for how water drains and flows on the property during rain or seasonal floods.


What kinds of soil are on the property? This is not trivial — you really need to know. Why? Because the type of soil determines the way you will need to build on it, as well as how difficult construction, grading and similar tasks will be. Rocky soil is going to behave differently than clay or highly aerated dark soil, and you need to know that before you can complete your site plan.


What grows on the property? Come up with a comprehensive list of every naturally occurring plant you can document on the property, from existing trees to relatively small shrubs and even some weeds. Here’s why that’s important: You can determine which natural vegetation you want to retain or use as part of your site plan, which pieces you want to remove and which kinds of added vegetation are likely to thrive on the property.


Wildlife can add value to a property or render it completely unusable. Depending on which part of the world you are developing the property in, you may be contending with apex predators or armies of rodents. You may also be afforded the natural beauty of majestic deer and wild horses. Whatever the case for your project, you need to account for it as you complete your site plan.

Climatic Factors

The weather is a big deal for any property. Will there be lots of rain? Will there be floods? What about extreme heat or cold? These factors will affect everything from the way you design certain structures to the water sources and HVAC systems you implement.

Cultural Factors

If you don’t account for the culture and history of the land you plan to develop, you risk developing something that won’t be usable. That’s because culture and history play a major part in all parts of the world. Ask yourself: Are there any historic landmarks or buildings on this property? What is the history of this parcel? Will there be people who don’t want to see this land developed or used in a certain way? Account for the answers to these questions in your site planning.

Existing Land Use

You need to account for not just the current use of the property you’re planning, but also the use of the properties nearby. For example, what if you plan to build a family home on the property but later find out the adjacent farmland is regularly sprayed with harmful pesticides from loud single-engine airplanes? That’s just one example to illustrate why it’s so important to know what the land surrounding the property is actually used for.

Simplify Site Planning with Cedreo

Site planning is a key part of any architect’s job. And it isn’t easy. To correctly carry out site planning in architecture, you have to not only understand the natural, cultural and practical aspects of the land you’re planning, but also the technical aspects of how to arrange the structures on the property and properly display the existing features of the landscape.

Put simply, it’s a lot of work. But you can make it much easier on yourself and your team by using Cedreo. Cedreo is a leading site planning software that simplifies the entire process. The result is detailed and actionable site plans in minutes, not days or weeks. That frees up resources you can use to complete more jobs and grow your business.

Interested? Try it for free today.