Sheet Metal & Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association

Going up? Multistory Industrial is Becoming Reality

MultistoryThe concept of traditional industrial warehouses, sprawling single-story structure ranging in size from 10,000 to more than 100,000 square feet and located in rural transportation hubs near highways, rail lines, and water, is being challenged by a new type of structure: the multistory industrial facility located in more urban locations. 

Already popular in Europe and Asia, developers are starting to erect multistory industrial warehouses in America as well. Reserved for the priciest and most space-challenged real estate markets in the world, multistory warehouses—some topping 200,000 square feet—are currently in use in New York City, Japan, and China, with another under construction in Seattle. One has already been proposed for San Francisco.

Multistory IndustrialThe rise of e-commerce and same-day delivery is increasing demand for industrial space in urban markets. In the U.S., multilevel warehouses are being designed with ramp access to the first two-levels to accommodate a variety of users and products on the lower and upper levels, with the third level, accessible by freight elevators, more suitable for offices rather than distribution. 

These industrial buildings look to reduce the problem of high land acquisition costs by essentially building two or more warehouses on top of each other. Some designs include parking decks sandwiched between floors and most developments have multiple straight two-way ramps to allow trucks access to loading areas.

IndustrialReal estate experts say this is a deep trend that will continue, according to Rob Kossar, vice chairman of real estate services firm JLL. Multistory urban industrial builds are coming to America and soon. Major cities across the country, where industrial-zone land is scarce and property costs are high, are prime candidates for these multilevel projects.

Few, if any, SMACNA contractors have been involved in the building of such multifloor mega warehouses, but that doesn’t mean that members don’t have experience in multistory structures used for commercial or industrial purposes.

On the West Coast, there is a need for a different kind of multistory structure. At Whittler-Young Co. Inc., a design-build mechanical contractor in Los Angeles, Brad Young said he hasn’t yet seen the type of modern multiple-story warehouse buildings now being built in New York, but Southern California has plenty of what he called “tilt-up” structures that incorporate interior mezzanines.

“We’ve been doing them forever,” he said. “They’re not multistory buildings in the sense of the word that you build a floor and you build another floor and build another floor on top of that. They’re basically a big shell that’s really tall and then you build plates on the inside with steel structures.”

Multistory Typically, offices or manufacturing facilities sit on the interior mezzanine level. In tilt-up construction, four 25- to 60-foot tall concrete slabs are poured on the ground and then raised to create the building’s walls and topped with a roof. “We’ve done thousands of them,” Young said.

Decades ago, Young said, there were a lot more large multistory manufacturing plants in California, but they predate modern seismic construction codes designed to withstand earthquakes. Many of those that remain have been converted into residential lofts, he added. 

As developers increase demand for multistory facilities—especially with the advent of e-commerce distribution—contractors working in the industrial space might do well to consider how to meet the unique needs of this growing urban area market.

SMACNA members can learn how Ware Malcomb is designing some of the first multistory warehouses in North America at