The role of the architect in logistics

Hyphen has worked in the industrial sector for more than 25 years and is currently delivering projects for some of the logistics industry’s key players across Europe. In this article, Berlin-based director, Leo Faoro, explains our role in this dynamic market…

What are the main factors that you need to consider when you’re planning/designing a new logistics facility?

Location and traffic flow – always! Parking and finding the right paths for vehicles around the hub are essential for seamless and timely delivery. Another important consideration is health and safety. With the huge amount of movement on site and inside the building, comes a high risk of accidents. The sheer amount and variety of stored materials also means that fire and environmental risks are increasing.

Therefore, a key focus within the design phase is risk mitigation, by analysing the processes and routing all flows and requirements from the start of a project. The construction industry has picked up on many of these requirements and today, provides a huge variety of supporting and customised solutions – specifically for the logistics sector.

How is this changing?

We see major changes happening in the digital innovation and technology side of the business, with its advanced analytics. At the same time, consumers’ expectations are changing, with a demand for real-time supply chain deliveries.

‘Last mile’ delivery remains a high priority and technology is already changing the way that businesses logistically manage and deliver products to their customers. There has been a lot of talk about the introduction of automated and autonomous vehicles, drones and warehouse robotics – we can already see the influence that this is having on current projects and I expect that this will have a more significant impact on the design of future logistics facilities.

What differences have you experienced across international locations?

Usually, speed to market drives strategy and project requirements can vary depending on the geographic spread of the population. Decentralised supply chains demand huge areal coverage with challenges for last mile delivery. ‘Pop-ups’ are a popular solution to deal with peak demands, and smart solutions (such as prefabricated modular steel structures and fire protection elements) can help with a speedy fit-out.

How does BIM enable developers to be more efficient across their logistics portfolio?

We’ve been using Building Information Modelling (BIM) at Hyphen for over 15 years and in my opinion, it has a crucial role in design coordination. One of its biggest advantages is in minimising complications on site (which can be expensive and difficult to solve). Any last-minute changes can be quickly implemented in the model and new information regarding construction coordinated with all project participants, almost in real-time. BIM is also being used for facilities management and remote repairs.

Are you designing for people or machines?

Both. Besides all the technological innovations, manpower is still an important factor in the world of logistics, so health and safety is key to avoiding problems in time-critical processes. Our designs focus on the needs of the people who are working in the facilities, and providing a safe, comfortable and efficient working environment for them. At the same time, the machines demand a high-level of accuracy from the shell of the building and whereas a few centimetres ‘here and there’ might not matter in some projects – in logistics, this variation can cause significant problems.

How do you think business requirements and therefore logistics design will change over the next five to 10 years?

As retailers increase their omnichannel offering and introduce more digital innovations in their stores, the need for more sophisticated stock management within the supply-chain is becoming more important – especially in big cities, where we expect food, beverages and other goods to our homes to be logistics driven. As a result, we should see more demand for Smart distribution centres.

To what extent is logistics design similar to that of other large-scale projects, such as data centres?

The biggest similarity between logistics design and other large-scale buildings we’ve worked on is the importance of BIM and MEP coordination. Site surroundings and environmental impact are also important considerations. Teamwork is key for reacting quickly to design changes and achieving the best results, and innovation is the only way to stay relevant.