Multistorey industrial developments are an architectural opportunity

There are a few obvious factors that contribute to this: a clear knowledge and experience gap, conservatism in the mindsets of tenants and the market and cautiousness on the part of investors. There is also a lack of central government planning policy that encourages industrial intensification, and a shortage of public – private partnership, many of the equivalent European schemes receive good local or central government funding.

Japan, and East Asia more generally, has been building multi-level industrial space for over 20 years, and we also studied a number of models of ramp-up warehouses for distribution logistics in this region, alongside industrial projects of considerable scale such as JTC Space @ Tuas in Singapore; a building that contains a mix of land-based factories, vehicle ramp accessed factories and flatted factory spaces, plus a supermarket, workers dormitory and sports facilities, all served by elevators.

Industria illustrates just one product type in a sector that has a wealth of innovation potential to link a variety of essential global recovery themes, from economics and employment, through to energy and sustainability resilience. It’s an area that is current, topical, and for an architect, hugely exciting to work in.

This comes at a time when competing requirements across major cities have resulted in large swathes of urban industrial land being redeveloped for non-industrial uses; between 2001 and 2020, Greater London lost nearly 1,500ha (the equivalent of over 2,000 football pitches) of industrial land to other, predominantly residential, uses. This lost industrial land would have provided 42 million sq ft of commercial accommodation.

Global technological changes in manufacturing, combined with dramatic shifts in consumer demand is creating significant changes and a much-needed reappraisal of how we deliver industrial space in our major cities. In the wake of Covid-19, there has also been a surge in e-commerce and, with this, a growth in smaller-scale, third-party logistics providers and last-mile fulfilment centres, all of which require new, highly functional spaces.

The architectural solutions and typologies for industrial intensification exist and, while they are readily adopted elsewhere in the world, the big question remains, as to when they will be implemented with confidence more widely in the UK. Here, many factors appear to be holding back innovation in the sector, and the system is slower in finding a way to deliver new solutions – especially in urban areas, where they are needed most.

We took inspiration for this new-generation of vertical building from several precedents, including the 1930s Starrett-Lehigh Building in New York, where vehicles moved vertically on three truck elevators through its 18 storeys, and the 1989 ‘hotel industriel’ in Paris by Paul Chemetov; where a central vehicle ramp and loading decks serves a variety of small and medium enterprises across four storeys.

More generally, there is a poor public image around industrial space, which we need to overcome, and refresh, coupled with concerns over heritage and conservation which slow the planning process. I think we also have less confidence in our education pipeline to provide skilled workers to meet demand. Compare this with the links between education and industry in a country like Switzerland, and the contrast is stark.

This shortage of industrial space, combined with increasing market demand, is putting pressure on planning authorities, clients and designers alike to find new ways of thinking about, and delivering industrial space, with an inevitable move towards industrial intensification and the use of multi-level solutions.

Graham Haworth is co-founding director of Haworth Tompkins


The main concept behind Industria, the UK’s first multi-storey light-industrial scheme, in Barking in east London, is ramp-up vehicle access to individual workspace units at multiple levels. The building has been developed by Be First, the regeneration arm of The London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, with funding from the Mayor of London’s Good Growth fund. It has been designed by my firm, Haworth Tompkins, in collaboration with industrial architect Ashton Smith Associates.

These, however, are not insurmountable issues and there is a noticeable positive momentum building up in the industry, with some very innovative developers taking a lead.  This sector is an inventive one to be a part of as there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution; logistics, manufacturing, maker space, R&D and med-tech all have subtle variations in their requirements.