Logistics design: past, present, future
From the industrial revolution to manufacturing in space, delegates at this year’s CILT Convention in Manchester were taken on a dramatic journey through the evolution of logistics design by Stephen George + Partners’ James Nicholls and Marcus Madden-Smith. Speaking to a full-house audience of international logistics and transport professionals, James and Marcus discussed how the typical logistics building has evolved through the decades, responding to both technological advances and changes in consumer demand, and considered where the sector may be headed in the near and far future.
Opening the session on the ‘Architecture of Logistics’, Marcus explained how, as Architects and Masterplanners at the forefront of design and construction in the industrial and logistics property sector, Stephen George + Partners (SGP) has experienced first-hand the evolution and, to some extent, revolution in how we send and receive products. He noted that whilst the building fabric of logistics buildings has advanced technologically, the building structure remains much the same. “However, the ‘industry standard’ building now faces more challenges than ever to adapt to technological advancement, multi-modal accessibility, social pressure and hierarchy; so much so, that a standard typology could be argued to be disappearing,” said Marcus.
Picking up the theme, James talked delegates through the historical evolution of ‘the shed’, from the factory buildings of the industrial revolution to the simple box and onwards to the last mile micro-hub. He also considered how, in recent years, dramatic changes in technology and society have revolutionised logistics architecture, as developers look to bring other uses into play. “The common phrase that we’re currently using is ‘beds and sheds’ and that’s basically a question of how you get habitable rooms layering above employment spaces. There are perceptions to break down – we’re often asked if people can live and have these types of spaces either side by side or above one another. The answer to that is that we’ve been doing side by side for decades and we’ve got a number of examples of things over the top of one another as well. The habitable rooms could be affordable housing, student accommodation, hotels, offices – it could be anything.”
A recurring question from the convention audience was how this multi-use, multi-layered approach could be funded.
Whilst Marcus admitted that bringing together the different funding streams for each use element into a single project is still a key challenge, he noted that increased land values are already driving intensification and multi-use, multi-layered projects are starting to come forward. “There are already some good examples, such as at St Pancras Way in Camden where student accommodation provider UNITE secured planning consent in partnership with Travis Perkins for a 564-bed scheme over a new trading facility on the ground floor. We are also starting to see developers that are self funding and looking to bring forward multi-use developments.”
“The two areas of the construction industry that are booming right now are resi and industrial and thus the two most likely areas in which developers and funds are willing to invest,” added James. “So I’m convinced that this will happen – it probably has to happen in fact. We desperately need to create more opportunities for housing, but planning policy such as the London Plan recognises that we can’t be losing employment space and that a sufficient supply of land and premises to meet current and future demands for industrial and related functions should be maintained. Mixed use, multi-layered developments are not only an important way of retaining employment space, but also key to addressing the housing issue.”
Observing the rise of lifestyle integrated logistics, James and Marcus questioned how logistics development could adapt to accommodate increasingly individual and bespoke requirements. Aligned to this, they noted, is the fact that as the ecommerce sector continues to boom, lack of accessible logistics space in high-population areas is already piling pressure on online retailers and logistics operators struggling to site last-mile distribution hubs to meet consumer demand. What is the answer?
Showcasing the 19th century model villages of Saltaire, Bournville and Port Sunlight where homes, gardens, hospitals, schools and leisure venues sit alongside the factories that provided vital employment to their inhabitants, James wondered whether we will now start to see development come full circle. To highlight this idea, delegates were shown a video of Stephen George + Partners’ vision for the logistics facility of the future, a customised design that not only embraces the plethora of emerging technologies, but is fully integrated into a mixed-use development and presents solutions for the environment, housing and last-mile delivery.
Explained James: “The villages conceived by the great philanthropists of the 19th century were truly visionary and it’s interesting to see how these different activities merge together to become one sustainable development with housing, education, leisure and healthcare sitting side by side with a factory. Our vision for the logistics facility of the future echoes these villages, where logistics facilities form an intrinsic part of a wider framework comprising a sustainable, inclusive and mixed-use, multi-occupancy environment, delivered as essential infrastructure and serviced by multi modes of transport. A logistics park for the future; a destination.”
The CILT International Centenary Convention took place at The Midland Hotel, Manchester between 16 – 18 June 2019