In previous articles we’ve discussed primarily residential architecture, but there’s a lot more to architecture than just where we live. Over the years I’ve spent my time designing yeshivas, commercial projects, hotels, residential complexes, private residences, and industrial buildings. Each has its own challenges and its own rewards.
Industrial buildings can either be built for specific industries and processes, or as more generic buildings for rental.
Buildings for specific industries are both interesting and challenging. Whether for cosmetics, metalworking, agriculture or the food industry, each has a dedicated process to take in raw materials and produce a finished product.
First, that process has to be understood, broken down, and translated into a built environment. Intake areas are defined for delivery of materials, reception rooms are designed for intake, review and distribution. Storage areas are designated, with appropriate connections to the various departments. Work areas are located to turn the raw product into a finished item. In many cases a research and development section of the building will be separate from the main flow yet be an integral part of the overall operation. After the product is ready, it needs to be packaged, stored, and finally made ready for distribution.
Second, the industrial building is also a workplace. People spend long hours of their day there and need both the basic amenities and a sense of place that will make their work-day comfortable and enjoyable. This can start from functional elements such as lockers, showers, and dining rooms, but that’s not enough. A comfortable rest area, a place to sit outdoors, a picnic bench, some shade, perhaps even a water element – can make the rest time much more pleasant, and the employees feel more appreciated.
Beyond the issues of program, industrial buildings are special because of their materials and construction methods. While your home may be built block by block or covered in stone, often an industrial building will need to have large spans, requiring either a lightweight roof or prestressed concrete beams. The distances between walls and columns needs to be greater to increase usable, obstruction free area. Openings are large and allow passage of service vehicles and forklifts. The construction system is usually chosen for speed of implementation, to allow the owner to have his factory up and running as soon as possible.
Also of primary importance in industrial buildings are the building systems such as gas, compressed air, oil, drainage, smoke extraction, clean room technology, cranes, painting systems, electrical power etc. Each industry has its own demands, but the emphasis is on practicality and ease of access, with aesthetics taking back seat. While the systems should be orderly, they need to be either fully exposes or quickly accessible in order to ensure ease of use and maintenance, as well as to allow additions and changes to the infrastructure as needed by the industry.
Associated with any factory is usually an office wing, often showing the more presentable side of the building to the outside world, accepting visitors, and providing space for the management team and those less involved with the nuts and bolts – sales and marketing, logistics, human resources and senior management.
All in all, industrial buildings provide a great challenge for an architect to create a highly efficient (and cost efficient) workspace, that is also a pleasant place for employees to spend hours of their day, and a good first impression of the company. With the right touch, the building can also evoke something of the spirit of the industrial enterprise it’s coming to serve.