Starting a design – the site

Starting a design – the site

Andrew Webb, Principal at WD Architects

Rather than give quick generalisations or ‘design tips’ as such, I would like to firstly lay the groundwork of understanding of the issues – It is virtually impossible to design anything if you don’t understand what the parameters are.  I can get to ‘design tips’ in later posts or if asked specific questions. Unless I get feedback, I’ll just ramble on with my thoughts – hopefully they’re helpful.

Hilltop house - WD Architects

The best houses are designed to suit their particular sites.

I will expand on what I mean by ‘best’ and what I mean by suiting the ‘site’ – otherwise that statement is useless.

What makes best:

  • affordable
  • comfortable
  • safe
  • built to last
  • easy maintenance
  • healthy
  • uplifting
  • adaptable
  • low impact

What makes ‘best’ for you is worth thinking about.  Just remember that the house should outlive you, so don’t build garbage.


What distinguishes the design for one site from another:

  • Climate (regional weather patterns)
  • Micro-climate (wind patterns, shading, dampness/humidity, temperature – the effects of vegetation, other structures, and topography)
  • Soil properties (silt, sand, gravel, clay, rock…also water table, swampiness, dryness, landslip, etc.)
  • Topography aka. slope – affects structure, views, micro-climate, access, buildability, and design options (such as split level)
  • Noise – road, other people, industry, birds, the noise you expect to create inside/privacy, rain noise, the ocean, etc.  Some noises you want, some you don’t – I once designed a house so that it would be noisy inside…the owner had tinnitus which only irritated him when things were quiet.
  • Views
  • Privacy or lack thereof
  • Access – car, bike, foot, horse, boat
  • Vegetation
  • Water – ocean, lake, creek, underground, dam, seasonal, flooding, bore, rain.
  • Service locations – power, sewerage, water, internet, phone
  • Dimensions and how that affects orientation
  • Council requirements – setbacks, site coverage, height, etc.
  • Covenants – typically copied and pasted from one developer to the next without any real understanding on their part why they make these requirements.  When they require stupid things: challenge them; you may find that the developer agrees with you (no recycled timber is a common one).

The site is not necessarily the whole block of land – on acreage the best design for one spot may be different for a spot a couple of hundred meters away, as any of the above could vary (except climate).

There is a lot of groundwork to lay.  My point here, I suppose, is to look at what you have…or want…or both…and begin a design from that – don’t overlay a design from Barcelona onto a block of land in Kingaroy  (not to mention that Australian safety regulations will ruin the Spanish design straight away).

Develop the design from what you have to work with and make it the best it can be.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Hi Andrew. I’m really enjoying your ‘ramblings’ so don’t stop 🙂

    I once read that you should camp on a block for a full year before even attempting a design. The argument was that you should experience all four seasons first. It made a lot of sense to me but it’s almost impossible to do. Do you agree with the idea and how can we accelerate the year?

  2. G’day Andrew,

    I’m also enjoying your ramblings. This is top quality stuff. Keep it up.


  3. Hi Mayuri,
    That’s a nice romantic notion but impractical for most people if not illegal. I’m also not entirely convinced of its merit considering the difficulty – what’s to say that the year you camp on the block is a ‘typical’ year; maybe it’s the year that it doesn’t flood, maybe there’s a volcano somewhere around the world that changes wind patterns, etc. What if there’s an amazing sea breeze every day at 3:00pm but you happen to work until 5:00?

    However, for the expense and effort I do think that it’s a good idea to put a weather station on the site if you have the time to wait for a reasonable amount of data. The most important thing to my mind to get from that is wind speed and direction because these can be very different from one site to the next and you can only get very generalised data on this from the Bureau of Meteorology ( – an otherwise good place to look for climate data in Australia). I’ve seen weather stations that seem to record everything you need for around $200 – a small price to pay for some pretty valuable information to inform your design.

    Beyond that, talking to locals (assuming you aren’t one) is the best way to ‘accelerate the year.’ You can get some valuable insights that neither a year in a tent nor hard data can give you.

    As an aside, ironically two houses that I know of which had major flood damage earlier this year were owned by a real estate agent and a building certifier.

  4. Thanks, will do.

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