The term ‘desk study’ simply refers to a study that is carried out purely through research, rather than physical investigations, that is, it can be done sitting at a desk.
On building design and construction projects, the term ‘desk study’ is often used in relation to preliminary site investigations, referring to the process of gathering background information about site-specific characteristics that will need to be considered during planning, design and construction, or issues that may merit more detailed physical investigations, such as site surveys.
Approved Document C defines desk studies as, ‘A review of the historical, geological and environmental information about the site’ and describes it as being ‘essential’. Desk studies might also be carried out as the starting point for assessing site lines, local context (such as architectural character, landscape and so on), archaeology (such as the risk of uncovering archaeological remains, unexploded bombs and so on), rights of way and other easements, the likely presence of solid and liquid contaminants, site ecology and so on.
A thorough desk study:
- Provides an initial understanding of the characteristics of an area or site.
- Provides early identification of site characteristics and potential risks so they can be more effectively managed.
- Informs the detail, scope and methodology of subsequent investigations.
- May help avoid undertaking unnecessary, expensive or intrusive investigations.
 Sources of information
The most common sources of information that are researched as part of a desk study include:
OS maps, including historical maps can offer information about:
- Changes in potential landslide areas.
- Changes in topography, stream and river courses.
- Coastal erosion.
- Concealed mine shafts.
- Disused quarries and in-filled ponds.
- Former uses of the site.
- Old clay, gravel and sand pits.
Aerial photographic records and Google maps provide useful information that can help identify or confirm historical site usage, hidden foundations, changes of topography and river course, and so on.
Services records can help locate hidden services such as; electricity cables, drainage, telephone cables and so on.
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- Archaeology and construction.
- Building archaeology.
- Building survey.
- Contaminated land.
- Development appraisal.
- Feasibility studies.
- Ground conditions.
- Insitu testing of soils.
- Laser scanning.
- Pre construction information.
- Site appraisal.
- Site investigation.
- Site surveys.
- Soil survey.
- Solid and liquid contaminants site risk assessments.
- Types of soil.
Featured articles and news
A mega-dome, a cenotaph for Newton, a bubble over New York - some of the most famous projects that were never realised.
One of the oldest and finest examples of Byzantine and Islamic architecture, the Dome of the Rock.
Have a look at our article explaining thermal comfort in buildings.
BRE's ethical labour sourcing standard and how it could help tackle modern slavery in the construction industry.
BSRIA publish mechanical and electrical maintenance customer satisfaction key performance indicators.
Have a look at our article on the history, practice and techniques of placemaking.
Have a look at the key recommendations from ICE's new report on the digital transformation of infrastructure.
The Gate of Europe, the world's first inclining high-rises, with a lean of 15-degrees.
Why engineers need to keep pace with the challenges and opportunities of the digital transformation of the infrastructure sector.
Have a read of our introductory article on fabric structures; their history, properties and characteristics, and more...
Growing connectivity and what it means for physical infrastructure, disruptive new tech and increasing interdependencies.
Foster & Partners selected as architectural team for new bridge crossings in Ipswich.