Park that thought – well-being comes to industrial parks
Car park, yard, warehouse and office – all on a fenced site. The design of logistics and business parks has not changed much in 30 years – until now. In a very competitive market, energy efficiency and good transport links are no longer enough, and developers and tenants are looking more and more to the benefits of healthy and positive workspaces to lift themselves above their competition. Richard Smyth, Studio Director at SGP’s Solihull office, argues that health and well-being concerns are playing a key part in the latest industrial park design – and it is being driven by the developers, rather than the tenants.
Reveals Richard: “It’s a business decision by the developers, but interestingly, it’s not in an effort to raise rents. Empty warehouses are the developer’s nightmare. So the aim is to quickly win over new tenants by offering internal and external facilities that will help them – the tenant – attract and retain staff in very competitive markets.”
Logistics centres and business parks tend to group together in relatively high concentrations around strategic transportation routes and conurbations that can supply their workforce. Previously, pay – although pretty standard – had been the main differentiator, with retention rates being low. The growing acceptance of the importance of the mental and physical well-being of a workforce – cross-pollinating from office design – means tenant companies are now looking to offer a better environment and facilities on-site, to both attract and keep the best staff and to make them happier and more productive when at work.
Explains Richard: “The growing awareness that health and well-being is now an important concern for occupiers has encouraged many developers to introduce facilities and amenities that speak to the health and welfare agenda and make that particular industrial park stand out.”
SGP has a long experience of dealing with sustainability standards such as BREEAM, which provided – and still provide – a useful “label” for a development. But now architects – at the behest of their developer clients – are looking beyond a sustainability check list to reduce the carbon footprint of a building, to more narrative health and well-being standards such as the WELL Building Standard.
Continues Richard: “Even if we choose not to apply for formal certification, programmes like the WELL Building Standard give us a framework through which we can improve workers’ health and experience by considering how the space impacts on their lives.”
One idea that has gained traction in the office workspace in recent years is that of biophilia or biophilic design. Biophilia, meaning love of nature, focuses on human beings’ innate attraction to nature and natural processes. The inclusion of direct or indirect elements of nature in workplace designs has been demonstrated through research to reduce stress, blood pressure levels and heart rates, whilst increasing productivity, creativity and self-reported rates of well-being.
“Given the sheer physical space of many of the buildings in a business or logistics park, we’ve been able to seize the opportunity to move beyond a green wall or shelf of plants in the office. We can propose some expansive connections between the indoor and outdoor spaces, physically bringing in living trees and plants on a much larger scale. There is always the need to balance the ‘loss’ of commercial floorspace with the benefits, but there are many developers now focusing on quality not just lettable floorspace.”
Many business or logistics parks have a big advantage over office blocks when it comes to well-being; by their practical design they have substantial landscaping infrastructure. Fresh air and sunlight are important to people and offering amenities that allow workers a rest from the workplace, a sense of having had a “proper” break, improves feelings of well-being. External spaces have always been an element in park design, but the focus has primarily been on the periphery landscape, mitigation and screening. More SGP designs are now adding pockets of amenity space, such as picnic or relaxation areas linked by routes e.g. walking or running tracks, or trim-trails, where exercise equipment is dotted along a route to mix types of exercise.
Often large sites have some existing ecology such as ponds and woodland which can accommodate outdoor amenities. Siting is important; gardens and rest areas should fit with work schedules, offering options for longer or shorter breaks. Some areas will need to be close to buildings but away from smoking areas, whilst others can be further away. Connectivity between the areas, especially keeping cars and pedestrians separate and safe, adds a new dimension to the standard site planning considerations.
Traditionally, business or logistics parks have been insular, looking inwards and careful to keep the local community separate from the possible dangers of its workings. With the provision of outdoor amenities, including areas of parkland, there has been a move towards inclusiveness. There is a move away from the “secure” barriers and boundary fences, to be replaced with links with the wider community and landscape, for example, incorporating footpaths, cycle routes or bridleways into the site plan. Where on-site amenities have been made more accessible, SGP has seen not only a growth in staff returning out of hours to use the facilities, but the local community, such as scout groups or walkers, using the site.
In smaller scale, more urban settings, the space for external amenities is much more limited, especially where land costs are high and the developer cannot justify the space for green areas. SGP’s “shed of the future” concept includes a roof that covers the logistics facility, primarily to keep the service yards out of sight and ameliorate noise and pollution issues, but it also to provide a plateau on which to build recreational uses.
Richard expands: “We’re currently running feasibility studies looking at roof gardens over, for example, a service yard. It’s not a new idea in residential or mixed-use schemes but hasn’t been done in logistics centres. As a concept, it works and sends out the right message, but there’s a lot to get right.”
SGP’s plans consider not only the design of the roof garden structure but elements such as the weight and loading, drainage and water management, suitable rooting material, and protection from the wind. Choice and positioning of plants are also vital as green spaces need to stay green and attractive. No-one wants to stroll around half dead planters or a depressing muddy expanse.
Concludes Richard: “Health and well-being in this sector is not a flash in the pan. The idea has taken hold and companies can see the benefits on their bottom line. For once, there’s no issue in showing the value to the developer – they are the ones driving the change. And the movement will only grow; logistics is very competitive so once one developer is doing it, the rest will follow – and are following.”