Golden rules for factory design and creating manufacturing buildings

Architect Richard Wooldridge offers his top tips to manufacturers for new-build factory design and how to work with factory and manufacturing architects.

I recently had the pleasure of being invited to speak to an audience of the Lake District National Park Authority about how we went about designing a high-tech sonar factory and offices in Ulverston.

This was an interesting project to be involved with, not least because we had a very short space of time to successfully design it, going from concept stage to planning submission in the space of six weeks.

I was asked to describe how we went about this £5m new-build factory design in such a tight timeframe, so I thought it would also be useful to share my thoughts here and offer my top tips on industrial building design.

1. Listen carefully

This is the vital first stage of any project and often where the best ideas will flow from. Only by truly listening to the client and understanding their objectives will the final design, and ultimately the building itself, be fit the for the client’s needs. The first week on any project is where trust develops between the client and those involved in the design, so communication is vital.

2. The small details matter

There is a major time investment in these early stages trying to get ‘under the skin’ of the organisation you are building for. For example, in the project I have mentioned above I spent six hours locked in a room with the client getting some further direction on our initial thoughts and concepts and really nailing down the detail.

3. Get the concept right and the rest will follow

Again this comes from listening to the client and always thinking about how the building needs to perform for them. Of course ideas are incredibly important, but creativity also has to be channelled in the right way, so that your thinking is aligned to the aesthetic and performance objectives of the facility. On the above project, the design for the building took its inspiration from famous landmarks in the locality, as well as the sonar technology being manufactured by the client. However, we never lost our focus on practicality and functionality.

4. Think from a worker’s perspective

Nobody wants to work in a boring space and that’s especially the case in a manufacturing environment where productivity is a critical factor for success. It’s important to consider how space and light can be used to create a more stimulating environment and how other design details can be used to produce more inspiring work surroundings. As industrial architects it’s important to always be thinking from the end user’s perspective.

5. Get a complete view

Unlike many other buildings, the sheer scale of some manufacturing buildings means that for factory architects like us, it’s even more important to consider the visual impact of the design. To understand just how the building will sit in its surroundings we visualise how the building will look from different angles, distances and locations, including from the air. As factory architects, this informs our design and ensures its visual impact on the environment is minimised.

6. Focus on evolution not revolution

Designing a manufacturing building has many stages and things change as the process moves along. Cost reviews mean certain aspects of a design might change multiple times, so it’s important to always have flexibility built into our plans, so we’re not always going back to square one. Even as the project is underway, the design will have to be refined numerous times.

7. Relationships are the key to successful outcomes

The design is right and planning permission has been granted. Getting to a stage where the final product exceeds expectations requires working closely with the client, the contractor, project managers, cost consultants and other advisers. The ability to manage relationships with tact, diplomacy and authority is crucial.

Richard Wooldridge is a RIBA chartered architect and a director of Harrison Pitt Architects. Heading up a team of commercial architects in Lancaster, he has been involved in design and project management for manufacturing buildings across the UK.

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