February 25, 2021

How Multilevel Warehouses are Capitalizing on the End User

How Multilevel Warehouses are Capitalizing on the End User
Published on on January 14, 2021 – By Lisa Brown

SAN FRANCISCO—With the lingering effects of the pandemic, there has been a shift from large horizontal warehouses in outer regions to more multilevel warehouses in denser environments closer to the end users. As a result, there are new considerations at play, such as traffic and automation technologies.

Anthony Cataldo, architect with Lowney Architecture, sheds some light on what developers should keep in mind for future projects. Multilevel warehouses are becoming a staple of urban environments. How can industrial projects of this sort maximize tighter footprints?

Cataldo: Warehouses require large land areas to function. This includes a building area, employee parking areas, and a truck circulation area. In recent developments, it is typical for a half-million square-foot warehouse to require 500 parking spaces and more than 100 dock positions, necessitating approximately 25 acres of site. Historically, this requirement of extensive land use has pushed warehouses to more rural areas with lower land costs. A greater need has recently come about for more urban industrial buildings to satisfy the consumer’s demand for quick delivery.

Urban warehouses have a much higher land cost, which requires architects to rethink the layout of industrial design, but there are dilemmas regarding the ideal placement of these buildings. Urban industrial locations prefer city centers, where employees have easy access without cars, thereby minimizing necessary parking. City periphery locations reduce congestion in city centers due to constant truck traffic. A site located on a public transit line outside of the city core and near a highway or main artery to the city is also a prime location to consider. With this placement, there is reduced traffic in the city and it eliminates most of the facility’s employee parking, subsequently increasing the developable area. Urban infill industrial space is increasingly attractive given its close proximity to end users. What kind of design elements can be leveraged to equip these smaller spaces with the same level of maneuverability and efficiency as larger-scale facilities?

Cataldo: Once the perfect site is secured, owners can look to maximize the building’s size and efficiency. Acquiring the rentable area necessary to cover land and construction costs requires the warehouse to be developed over several stories. In this case, let’s assume a three-story building. The next big question is the program. In most instances, the purpose of these buildings is last-mile delivery. However, other well-suited needs for these locations are research and development, flex office/industrial, and cold storage.

Similarly, the placement of programs in the building is critical. For example, last-mile delivery makes the most sense on the ground, with full access to truck docks. One such solution to maximize space is to expand the functionality of the second floor through the effective use of outbound vans. Research and development is another fair use for the second floor where there is typically lower truck traffic volume. The third level is best suited for industrial flex office space, where there can be similar access to trucks via a ground floor dock and a lift, and vans as the second level.

Once the program is determined, it’s time to look at trucking and the inbound/outbound access to each of these spaces. Inbound trucks are typically 53-foot trailers and require maneuvering clearance of 135 feet when parked perpendicular to the building. In urban environments, trucks can park in a sawtooth configuration, reducing the distance between the building and its property line. Dedicated cargo elevators eliminate the need for massive ramps and truck courts on the second and third floors for inbound products. Outbound goods can often use smaller vans to pick up goods for final delivery, and ramps such as those found in parking structures can provide access to the second and third floors. Keeping full-size docks on the ground floor and outbound loading positions for smaller trucks on the upper floors can increase building size and efficiency. These programming decisions reduce a facility’s cost because the ramps resemble a parking structure versus a freeway onramp. What can owners do to ensure industrial projects are relevant after the pandemic passes?

Cataldo: Historically, flexibility in the space has allowed industrial buildings to be resilient through changes in the economy. The use of building spaces changes as the economy shifts and as technology continues to evolve, it is vital for buildings to keep up. With these changes, owners need to consider ways to ensure industrial projects remain relevant after the pandemic. Building infrastructure design should accommodate a variety of different users, and a building’s design should allow the ability to provide multi-tenants in the space.
Down the road, there will be more reliance on automation, not only inside facilities but outside too. In many cases, technology will supplement human jobs to help make the process more efficient. Incorporating additional power supplies are essential for buildings to adapt and prepare for future equipment and robotics down the road.

Multi-story warehouses developed in the United States do not have the 36-foot or 40-foot clearance seen in more traditional single-story warehouses. A good clear height provides flexibility within the space. Floor designs with adequate column spacing and clear structure heights work well with racking, and forklift traffic also allows buildings to look beyond current functionality needs. For a building subdivided into multiple areas, the design may mean putting in core infrastructure for multi-story access and exiting. All spaces should have access to a dock or other means of loading and unloading products.

Attracting employees is another key differentiator for industrial projects. End users are attracted to spaces that help them hire and retain employees. Within the industrial market, this tends to relate to green building features, natural light, and employee amenities. For urban multi-story warehouses, a rooftop break area could be the perfect place for employees to get outside for a lunch break, grab some fresh air and enjoy the urban views.

We do not know what the future may bring, but we know more maneuverable automated trucks, drones, and other means of transporting products to and from the warehouse are just around the corner. Designing for flexibility is vital to accommodate the next wave of industrial needs




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