Property Week asked seven architecture practices to present their visions for the shed of the future. Here are the ideas they came up with…

There has been much talk about multi-storey, underground or even flying sheds, but what will – or could – the industrial and logistics buildings of the future really look like?

To find out, Property Week joined forces with Savills and commissioned seven architects to each design a 500,000 sq ft fulfilment centre that is innovative, creative, forward-thinking and not constrained by the usual institutional standards. No budget was specified and the brief was kept deliberately scant to encourage expression.

The architects were asked to consider modern construction methods and to design a building that was zero-carbon, or close to; would help occupiers attract and retain staff; was autonomous and electric vehicle enabled; and could potentially be repurposed after the first lease. The result is the weird and wonderful collection of ideas illustrated below.

Will Cooper, Savills’ director, building and project consultancy, says he is “astounded” by the quality of the submissions. “What the sector can take from this is to try to think outside the box, about how to build better, not just in the way we’ve always done. Some designs are pretty futuristic – you could imagine them being made a reality in 10, 20 or 30 years’ time – but some elements could be implemented tomorrow.”

Whatever tomorrow brings, as these designs show, the possibilities are (almost) endless. Once you’ve seen the entries, head to Property Week’s Instagram page (@propertyweek) to ‘like’ your favourite and ‘like’ your favourite in our Facebook gallery at

Shed of the Future - RPS

Sweetcorn - RPS

By 2030, UK land prices will have risen significantly. Urban and green space will be at a premium while demand for distribution, industrial and logistics space close to population hubs will continue to rise. In response to this, RPS’s proposal – an ‘autonomous distribution co-operative’ – creates an appropriately intensified mixed-use development that can grow upwards to suit occupier requirements while maintaining a modest floorplate below.

Its multi-level nature frees recreational space at street level and new technologies enable HGV loading to be done out of sight below ground. The scheme will offer connections for local, national and international distribution via rail, automated HGV roadtrains, drones and airships.

The building’s central core acts as a structural spine incorporating high-speed lifts for staff and products, and acts as a heat source by utilising ground-source technology. Wrapped around the core is a fully automated storage and retrieval system utilising artificial intelligence.

Moving mezzanine and compartment walls creates cells for different storage requirements, which will provide around four times greater storage capacity than traditional warehouse racking systems. Storage areas can be used by multiple tenants with various temperature requirements. There will also be shared facilities such as 3D printing and data storage (with heat recovery) for occupiers.

As the capacity for distribution changes, cells in the building can be dismantled, rebuilt and moved. The modular, solar-leaf graphene facade will act as a solar array and will be flexible in terms of volume and temperature control. The building will be fully sustainable, providing its own heat, power and water collection.

Today’s distribution parks are functional but unappealing, offering little to the community. This scheme has a functional yet elegant and attractive form while providing staff recreational areas inside and out. The vertical density allows space to be given back to the community, including retail and sports areas at ground level and employee gyms, childcare crèches and residential space above.

Verdict of Will Cooper, director, building and project consultancy at Savills: “No one can accuse this scheme of being a dull vanilla box. Design is often purely related to functionality. However, here the distribution function is predominantly below ground with living, working and recreational space above ground in order to create an attractive facade. Horizontal and vertical movement of product within the building’s central core would be efficient, but would throw up some interesting management challenges particularly in a multi-tenant situation. What’s clear is that mixing sectors and multi-modal transport and using renewables is going to be vital to the continued innovation of the sector.”

The Vault - Pilbrow & Partners

Pilbrow & Partners presents the Vault, a fulfilment centre with an innovative approach to storage, logistics and delivery. The design and structure of the Vault allow for an increase in process efficiency while significantly reducing the footprint area for high-volume and high-density storage.

Warehouse sheds typically occupy large tracts of land to receive, store, pick, pack and dispatch goods. Storage management systems can improve tracking and tracing, but the process of handling goods on arrival or before dispatching remains time consuming and resource heavy because of the operational segregation of loading and storage areas.

At the Vault, loading and unloading will be flexibly distributed below storage areas. Destination control systems direct vehicles at entry to the optimal location from which a telescopic tracking mechanism will drop or collect containers for storage.

This bypasses dependence on labour-intensive stackers and platform trolleys. Storage ‘trees’ are suspended from an efficient and light-filled parabolic cross-vault structure clad in transparent polycarbonate sheeting and spanning a column-free loading area.

To meet varying capacity requirements and site constraints, the building’s form is adaptable through both extension of the structure and its duplication in parallel. Its architecture celebrates a new model of warehouse as an essential and beautiful component of the city’s future economy.

Shed of the future - Pilbrow & Partners

This proposal takes its design cues from the principles of airport hubs and getting people, or in this case goods, in, through and out to the maximum number of destinations by the maximum number of means possible. This is achieved by wrapping a central 18m-high racking  cell with a 360-degree marshalling area.

The departure from a typical four-sided rectangular building to the octagonal form AJA has designed is based on maximising not only the number of inbound and outbound vehicles that can be accommodated, but also the variety of vehicles that can be serviced and the speed at whic h they can be processed. With consumers demanding ever-quicker delivery times, the swifter the turnaround can be achieved, the greater the ability to meet the ta gets and aspirations of both operator and customer.

The building also provides the ability to run multiple product lines through their own dedicated and badged service facades, thereby allowing the operator to process multiple contracts through the same facility, or segregate as required. There are also four transport hubs in the building to process the drivers and their tasks as well as directing the operations within the core. Offices are located at a high level above the loading doors to maximise footprint efficiency and can be accessed safely and securely by a high-level cross-yard walkway and tower connected to the parking area.

The building can cater for all manner of HGV access as well as vans and containers. In addition, if desired, roof access is available for drone activity. The form of the building also generates corners on the plot that, while usually undesirable, in this case form perfect areas to cater for retention ponds, onsite energy centres, staff parking and amenity areas.

Power can be sourced off grid through onsite generation via photovoltaic-ready roof infrastructure and a combined heat and power plant. These not only provide the needs of the main facility but also for electric vehicle charging. Staff welfare has been considered and as well as an onsite amenity area outside the operations centre, which caters for staff breaks and crèche use, AJA has also incorporated a combined running and cycle track on the roof that is accessible for staff use.

Materials have been taken from a robust but sustainable and recyclable pallet of timber and steel with a full perimeter of green roofing to improve both the environmental and ecological characteristics of the development and also bound the running/cycle track for safety. Since the form is capable of being completely modular, extensions can be built on to any facade, and the extent of circulation and servicing means operations can continue with ease while the expansion takes place.

Shed of the Future - AJA

Shed of the Future - AJA

Will Cooper: “The pizza-esque roof of this design could be a clue to how the building might be effectively ‘sliced up’ to allow for multiple tenants. However, occupiers would need to look at their storage strategies as a typical uniform racking system would be very inefficient, particularly towards the centre of the building.

“The installation of a high-level walkway is likely to become more and more common as the distribution of people around sites becomes more of a challenge for the industry to overcome. Of all the designs, this is probably the nearest scheme to what is possible now.”

Property Week Shed Design Challenge Jestico + Whiles Image

Pack-Recycle-Make-Repeat - Jestico + Whiles

In response to the increasing demand and shortage of industrial land, stackable modules form an efficient and adaptable multi-level system, enabling “the ambitious inhabitation of multiple site types”.

Jestico + Whiles’ proposal is a sustainable, closed-loop system that combines recycling with distribution and uses waste elements from the packaging production process as a modern construction material.

Innovative construction tools and autonomous technology facilitate this process, resulting in a highly efficient and iterative production line.

Repetitive modules are assembled as separate or combined spaces, accommodating both multiple or single occupancy, while contracting and expanding to meet demand. During expansion, additional modules are constructed, capitalising on the excess waste material associated with increased production. During contraction, modules are relocated to other sites or repurposed.

Employing technology as a driver of both construction and operation, Jestico + Whiles’ proposal offers a forward-thinking approach to the needs of fulfilment centres, minimising land requirements while maximising efficiency and flexibility in a sustainable manner.

Epicentre - Chetwoods

Without enough land available in the right locations, the logistics sector will be compromised and will be unable to meet the growing demands on the sector and the needs of customers. As a result, the location and network connectivity of future logistics sites are paramount.

Creative solutions are required to solve the growing problems facing the sector. Chetwoods’ proposal has been developed by identifying and solving the key issues the logistics industry faces, including a lack of labour, land and power.

Chetwoods’ proposal introduces ultra-efficient facilities, staffed by highly skilled and local labour forces, working in zero-carbon, zero-waste buildings, which are positive net contributors to the communities and landscapes they sit in. The concept, called Epicentre, looks far beyond the traditional, individual unit and creates a self-sustaining, self-supporting community with a range of uses. Flexible logistics units, a variety of transport connections, healthcare, sports and fitness facilities, homes, education, green infrastructure, allotments for food growth, power generation – the design has everything required to create a sustainable and successful community.

Logistics is at the heart of this community – along with data, it is the connection to a wider global community. Chetwoods viewed this is a logistics town and went beyond the 500,000 sq ft specified in the brief to identify the possibilities of a larger, multiple-tenanted community. The Epicentre concept is envisaged as being a force for good, bettering its environment. It could be replicated to form a network across the UK.

Chetwoods Epicentre pic_no branding

Will Cooper: “This design incorporates an entire community based on the premise of ‘live/work’.  While ostensibly wacky, it actually uses traditional ideas such as allotments and farming, including the growth of materials such as hemp, to ensure that the hub is entirely self-sustainable.

“With the greatest emphasis on wellbeing of all the designs, the key focus of Epicentre is on people and the environment, rather than on the logistics element itself. In an age when work/life balance is key, the logistics sector is going to have to adapt in order to both attract staff and retain them.”

Logistics 2049 - UMC

The ‘beehive’ design will be the metaphor for logistics in 2049. Current automation limits the potential to build upwards, creating land-hungry industrial and logistics buildings. UMC’s development will be highly automated, enabling goods to be moved ‘multi-dimensionally’ within large, flexible spaces that can be used by multiple users. Such efficiencies will mean goods-to-warehouse volumes will increase 10-fold. The modular nature of the shed will allow it to grow organically and vertically – the latter driven by land constraints and high land values.

Battery technology will enable inbound top-loading driverless trucks to service the facility at lower ground level, all bulk-parked with limited marshalling, feeding goods up into the vertical stacking grid. This storage area will be serviced by Al robotic picking to optimise ‘just-in-time’ delivery. Dispatch will be supplemented by output from 3D printing cells, driven from a bolt-on operational hub staffed by technologists and engineers monitoring time-critical flows and maintenance requirements.

Products can be dispatched via drone and by small top-loaded driverless electric trucks to serve last-mile delivery. The bulky nature of top-loading vehicle technology will eliminate the need for large service yards, meaning site densities are maximised. An intelligent ‘chameleon’ envelope will include south-facing solar cells that will be combined with heat-recovered energy from the building and utilised to drive the automation. Increased height will enable intelligent stack ventilation and cooling of the equipment to prevent overheating.

Shed of the Future - UMC

Will Cooper: “This design is based around an airport-style concept allowing for vertical distribution by using top-loading lorries. This almost entirely automated process removes the requirement for forklifts and effectively deals with challenges relating to employment, or lack thereof. On the flipside, however, this significant reduction in employment could prove a problem for the planners.

“One of the standout features of this unit has to be the ‘intelligent envelope’. The industry is constantly coming up against planners over the appearance of industrial units. So implementing a smart camouflage would allow the building to change its appearance as often as the planners change their minds.”

SGP-v35 - Stephen George + Partners

If we consider how typical industrial and logistics buildings have developed in the past 25 years, has there been that much change? The fabric has become more technologically advanced, but the building structure remains much the same, albeit reshaped and with larger service areas to accommodate larger vehicles.

However, the industry-standard building now faces more challenges than ever to adapt to tech advancement, multimodal accessibility, social pressure and hierarchy. The logistics facility of the future should meet the demands of ecommerce and embrace emerging technologies including AI, automation, electrical storage and generation, 3D printing, robotics, drones, digital railways, smart transportation and the ‘Internet of Things’.

A key challenge for the supply chain will be to innovate by responding to, adopting and implementing these technologies. Those that do so will become more efficient and productive. SGP’s vision responds not only to tech advancement, but also the challenges facing the environment. As demand increases, SGP believes logistics facilities should form part of a wider framework consisting of mixed-use, multi-occupancy, multi-level development considered and delivered as essential infrastructure serviced by multiple modes of transport.

Parks should consider not only the retail consumer experience but also the integration of office, residential and public amenity uses powered by renewable energy sources. Tackling the perception that residential and logistics do not mix is crucial. The introduction of electric vehicles and smart transport will help ease concerns over noise, air quality and congestion.

Shed of the Future - SGP