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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 25 2013: Does that zoning requirement prevent mixing commercial and residential applications in a struture? I see no inherent conflict with having a floor of office cubicles in the same building as apartments. In fact, by the percentages you quoted, would including residential space allow for taller structures?

    Though more suitable for the service sector, at least that would free the available commercial real estate for manufacturing or other heavier industry.

    What is the state of infrastructure in the urban areas? If all building is residential, will new buildings be constrained in terms of available power, water, waste disposal, and communications?
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      Oct 4 2013: There hasn't been such a limitation on the past years, but latest planing and zoning trends tend not to mix uses inside the same building... I guess this way it's easier for them to group uses as coloured polylines in a 2D plan. So these areas never combine residential uses with offices, even if it looks quite a reasonable combination.

      In urban areas things are different, but the industrial/manufacture sprawl is becoming more and more evident. There are a-priori no such limitations you mention.

      Thanks for your interest.

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