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There is more to logistics than sheds

Matthew Franklin

While the effects of supply chains have never been felt so keenly, why is the architecture of logistics still seen as so drab and invisible?

G. Park Blue Planet is a £22m, 35,752m² logistics building that Chetwoods designed for Gazeley in Stoke-on Trent. Chetwoods
G. Park Blue Planet is a £22m, 35,752m² logistics building that Chetwoods designed for Gazeley in Stoke-on Trent. Chetwoods Credit: Chetwoods

Not all of the logistics world is drab and invisible. Architects can and are delivering warehouses that we can be proud of. Logistics has become about so much more than out-of-town storage and distribution centres and to call them sheds is doing them all a disservice.

Part of our work at Chetwoods is in logistics. The position of logistics within the market often means some changes take place here earlier than most and, in this case, designing for people is no exception. In the last five years there’s been a noticeable increase in requirements based around people’s experience of the sites and their health and wellbeing. Designing for people has become increasingly important to stakeholders as it is linked to value, job satisfaction and the quality of staff, for example.

  • In Dunstable Chetwoods designed the world’s first WELL Building Standard pilot industrial scheme.
    In Dunstable Chetwoods designed the world’s first WELL Building Standard pilot industrial scheme. Credit: Chetwoods
  • It included a running track.
    It included a running track. Credit: Chetwoods

Many of our recent designs include features for health and wellbeing, with the emergency fire track doubling as a staff running track, allotments in the surrounding landscaping, biodiverse areas of nature and water features, and interiors that include features recommended by the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) to improve air quality, maintain water quality, support movement and comfort, strengthen immune systems and foster mental resilience.

Industrial buildings may seem simple from the outside but their appearance can hide highly complex and functional requirements and operations. Leaving the challenges of planning and the expected norms to one side, these buildings started out on old industrial estates where, like agricultural buildings, the form and looks were purely as a result of function and construction.  Over recent years, the appearance of logistics buildings has been changing in response to materials, context, use and construction, and teams like ours have been pushing all elements of the designs, including aesthetic and creative aspects. 

Current logistics buildings are more unique and bespoke, looking to, learning from and in some cases leading design-led sectors. The principles of high-tech still ring true in many cases, but are now tempered by lean design and the circular economy to achieve sustainability and operational targets that are often way above regular standards.

Geographically there continues to be change too and urban logistics is increasingly common. The operations of the industry have changed and so have the buildings, as a result. In addition to the out-of-town developments, there are smaller suburban and city centre developments, ranging in style, size, provision and mix to suit and work with the context and community.

Mix is a key element for urban logistics. The way we work and live has changed significantly in the last 10 years, even before Covid, and logistics has both enabled and adapted to that change, becoming closer, more convenient, direct and personal. The result is often one of good mixed use, hybrid developments, where logistics projects can offer other space for Industrial, offices, workshops, retail or even residential. This mix of use helps create communities and diverse live work areas, requiring a strong approach to creating a sense of place.

These developments are progressing to meet huge demands for quicker, more convenient deliveries. But these need to align with the demands from other sectors, like homes on urban land, jobs within the area and the increasing cost of land in key areas. The solution to this has to be intensification.

The balance between demand and cost is leading to new and exciting developments, which are using examples from around the world to create multistorey and multi-user logistics buildings.

G Park London Docklands 426,000 sqft is built over over three storeys opposite London City Airport using platforms to allow lorries to access each level.
G Park London Docklands 426,000 sqft is built over over three storeys opposite London City Airport using platforms to allow lorries to access each level. Credit: Chetwoods

These are new building types that consider many other site opportunities like below ground or multistorey buildings, utilising existing buildings such as redundant multistorey car parks and retail or shopping centres, and in some cases placing logistics right in the centre of towns and cities as a key part of re-designing the high street for the current demands.

Further developments in the logistics sector come from the way they are constructed. Improvements in technology and materials have helped us to test and evolve construction methods, saving time and money on projects but also creating safer, healthier and more pleasing environments. We have developed templates for subterranean and multistorey developments in response to land prices, land availability, sensitive context and sustainability and the first net-zero carbon development, in line with the UK Green Building Council framework that is setting the standard for all new buildings. The use of technology and digital design is instrumental in the application of creative design and the employment of environmental and wellbeing focused initiatives. Examples of this include the tech hub, built to circular economy principles for use on site to view the construction model and details in 3D and virtual reality, which then go on to be used as a marketing suite, avoiding time and resource waste on speculative fit-outs. 

In addition to this, we are digital twinning buildings and using data monitoring and other technology to manage the way the buildings are designed, procured, built and operated. We are improving the efficiency of all processes, exploring innovative ideas and technologies for the future, and modelling the carbon footprint for the life of the buildings as well as the environment and climate in which the staff operate.

The logistics world continues to change and invent ways of meeting the huge demands placed on it by consumers. More deliveries, quicker response times but also adapting to and planning for sudden and world-changing events that put huge strains on the whole supply chain.

It’s innovative, it’s exciting, it’s ever changing, it’s forward-thinking, and it’s an essential part of our life that grows more and more important year on year.

Matthew Franklin is senior architect at Chetwoods


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