5 Awesome Tips For the Site Design Vignette

Site Design is one of the graphic vignettes in the Site Planning and Design Division of the Architect Registration Exam. Knowing exactly what to look for and practicing solutions before walking into the exam room are keys to passing this exam. 

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In the Site Design Vignette, you will be required to follow the program and lay out an entire site including buildings, courtyards, sidewalks and parking.

This top 5 list for the Site Design vignette will help  keep you focused as you prepare for the Site Planning and Design division. Be sure to practice a lot with the NCARB software. You’ll want to be completely familiar with the software tools prior to taking the exam.

5 Awesome Tips For the  Site Design Vignette

1. Be direct with building placement; if an entry requires sun, face it South; if an entry requires a view of a site plan element, face it towards that element. Stay away from setbacks such as the building limit line, any site easements, and any site elements that require a setback.

2. Connect your buildings with your outdoor space and be sure to shade or protect this space from the sun properly. Remember: deciduous trees provide shade while still allowing views while conifers block both wind and views but do not provide shade.

3. Determine your parking layout early and adjust it if need be. Maintain a drive thru circulation pattern and don’t forget to include the accessible spaces as close to the building entry as possible.

4. Be mindful of the existing trees on site and stay within the program allowance for disturbed/removed trees.

5. Connect your main drive aisle to your parking lot and service drive; be efficient and provide as little site paving as possible. Don’t forget to also connect your outdoor space to the public walkway using a sidewalk.

Remember, practice, practice, practice, especially with this vignette. Efficiency is key so remember to be deliberate with your placement of objects.

Keep practicing and good luck on your road to licensure!

Aubrey B

By |2019-01-21T18:39:50+00:00October 10th, 2013|Categories: Site Planning & Design|2 Comments

About the Author:

David Doucette
David Doucette, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP is founder of Architect Exam Prep and CSEprep.com and has been helping candidates successfully prepare for and pass the California Supplemental Exam (CSE) for the last four years. He also hosts a podcast dedicated to preparing for the California Supplemental Exam as well as CSE Video Tips at CSEprep.com.


  1. Avatar
    Eric Rodriguez August 13, 2015 at 10:21 pm

    I am to take the SPD Exam soon and I have a question. I would have asked this in the video comment section of arepractice.com but I did not see any option to. In all the programs I have read it usually tells you to place a building near a pond or lake. Something like “no closer then 30 feet” but “no more the 125′ from the pond.” It’s the latter part of this requirement that I am slightly confused about. Are they asking us to place the entire building within the 125′ requirement? Or are they asking us to make sure that the closest part of the building to the pond be no more then 125′ away? My instinct tells me the closest point but I thought I might ask you all for advice. Hope I am making sense. Always seems that I am splitting hairs with these programs. Thank you very much in advance. You guys rock.

  2. Avatar
    Aubrey August 15, 2015 at 10:04 am

    Hi Eric,
    These are the kind of things that I think trip people up a lot when taking the exams. NCARB tends to be vague and indirect in their wording so it can be confusing, however I have found the best approach is to follow the program as literally as you can. Does it say that the entry to the building must be no closer than 30 feet and no farther than 125 feet from the pond? Or does it say just the building in general? There is a big difference between the two. If the entry needs to be within a certain distance from a site element, be direct and place the entry to the building within the distance specified. If it’s just the building, that means any part of the building can be within that distance, however make sure it’s an actual portion of the building (not just a corner or some small segment, you want to make sure you are meeting the program requirements). Unless they say the entire building must be within the set distance, it is safe to assume that so long as any part of the building is within that distance you are safe. If you can place the whole building in the setback then you know you don’t have anything to worry about, but likely you will have several other site elements to consider and may need to be flexible with the building placement.

    I hope that was helpful and good luck with your upcoming exam!

    ~Aubrey Buracchio

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