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Mikel Azkona

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Can we think of factories and commercial buildings growing vertically, in order to save land and bring those uses back into compact cities?

I'm an architect and I participate in a research project of the University of the Basque Country. We are doing research on higher density industry buildings and we think the global decision that has been taken in residential areas of going into higher densities, should also apply in industrial areas. Main reasons apply in both cases: shortage of building land and the need of a sustainable mobility.

Here in the Basque Country, the reasons that make us want to turn into higher densities are quite evident: rough terrain, high population density and industry still playing a major role in the economy. It is therefore difficult and expensive to obtain industrial land and the costs are very high. During the XXth century, there was in fact, a tradition of urban industry edification, but as in many other places, urban sprawl has prevailed in recent decades, spreading industrial buildings and emptying city centers.

We have seen many examples where, despite not being motivated by topography reasons, higher models have been recovered in order to prevent industries and manufacture activities being kicked out from growing metropolis (examples in Paris, Vancouver, Brooklyn…).

In our research work, we are examining the main practical problems that exist, paying special attention to the limitations set by the existing technical regulations and urban planning. The alternative may come from the growth in number of floors and merging of uses. So the final aim of this research is to find and work on new building typologies that would give a solution to these problems.

We are hoping the TED community will be interested in sharing and suggesting ideas on this subject, and would like to discuss on what possible solutions there might be. We'd love to hear of similar experiences around the world and would appreciate the sharing of some other interesting examples you may know.


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    Sep 6 2013: I think your concept is sound. Does the Basque Country follow any particular trends in terms of zoning or other regulation that you expect to cause a problem? In the United States, there is a process called 'variance', which is a single exception to the established regulations, designed to be used in cases where the regulations do not cover the dimension in question or the regulatory concern is somehow irrelevant.

    I would estimate that the biggest challenge would be logistical, with so many manufacturing entities using the same footprint. This makes me think of 24 hour use of facilities; some consideration would need to be made for the visual requirements of loaders and drivers, and methods to prevent the disturbance of nearby residential areas from all the light and noise. The underground suggestion has merit; I imagine a robust shipping and receiving center could be built underground without substantially more expense or effort than an underground parking garage.

    Speaking of parking garages, there is an automated one in Germany, I think, which accepts and retrieves your car as though it were a tremendous vending machine. Virtually any size product can be handled via automation; designing for that should be a prime consideration I would think. Also in the United States, we have certain designs of apartment buildings or shopping malls that have a large central open space for aesthetic reasons. A similar design could use that space as an artery to lift raw materials up and products down. Airport luggage handling and postal offices should have good ideas to plunder. Combining the above ideas, why not build elevators capable of taking a semi truck to the fifteenth floor? It can be done.
    Perhaps the structures should be designed with removal external walls by floor, so that modifications to individual sections or new machinery could be swiftly and cheaply replaced.
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      Sep 25 2013: Thanks for sharing Ryan.

      Yes. There's actually an standard which limits the industrial land use up to maximum of %65 for the total floor plan area, and a maximum of 95% for the under-roof built area, which is just insane. This is what avoids buildings growing in height. The "variance" process sounds interesting and would surely help studying each case.

      As you say, logistics are the key to this matter. We're working on that, studying compatibilities not only taking into account building sizes, transport needs, annoying activities (noise/toxic emissions/vibrations) and compatibility with residential areas, but also 24h schedules in use, in order to find the best combination possible. Underground makes absolute sense.

      The automated garages you're mentioning are the new VolksWagen factories in Wolfsburg and Dresden, in Germany, and they both have these robot-towers for keeping and storing the cars:
      It's definitely a great example. Probably not the best, as I guess its been projected more from a commercial and promotional view, rather than a functional or spatial view. Anyway, it clearly shows how height problems can perfectly been solved with the use of elevators… One could argue that land footprint and costs are probably being replaced by power consumption/costs in these cases. But as it an example that is being widely implemented in many european city centers, where there is not enough space for parking, I think it is interesting solution to be considered in order to safe space and also time.

      I like your ideas and proposals and totally agree with you: I'm sure taking a truck to the fifteenth floor is not such a big deal. We've all seen these huge and gigantic port-cranes, handling thousands of enormous metal containers within minutes and as if they were weightless. One of those would perfectly fit the inner open space you propose.

      Thanks again for your ideas.

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