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A New Era for Self-Storage Building Materials: Focal Point, Maintainability and Color Drive Design

A self-storage owner’s goal for exterior facility design is often three-fold: a strong, attractive focal point; easy site maintainability; and a use of color that supports business branding. Each will be driven by local requirements and cost.

By Jeffrey S. Dallenbach

The image of self-storage has changed dramatically over the years. Facility owners and developers are pushing the envelope to build in exclusive and previously non-pursued arenas, including many high-profile locations and downtown settings.

As we build in these areas, project materials, colors and design elements must meet the standards of the socio-economic environment. Consumers want to store in facilities that look like their residence, local coffee shop or high-end retail establishments. But while your customers demand a certain “feel” for the locations they visit, you may be limited in your design choices by local standards, neighborhood associations, planning-development departments and overlay district guidelines.

A self-storage owner’s goal for exterior design is often three-fold: a strong, attractive focal point; easy site maintainability; and a use of color that supports business branding. Each will be driven by local requirements and cost.

Focal Point

The focal point of a self-storage property is the design element that catches the attention of passers-by and identifies the function of the building. There are many techniques that create emphasis at the focal point, which, in most cases, is the leasing office. There’s often a specific element that separates the office from the remainder of the project. This element can be shorter, taller or even a different shape than the body of the building. It can also feature upgraded materials.

One example of a focal-point treatment is glass, which is a dynamic and useful tool in storage- design. It creates the welcoming feeling consumers desire and opens the office to the exterior environment, drawing people into the site. It also creates a link for the facility branding by showing how the colors, materials and signage used inside the office match those on the exterior. 

When choosing building materials for your focal point, those that tie into the local environment tend to make the most sense. For example, if you’re building on the east coast, you might use red brick. If you’re building in Central Texas, you might choose limestone. Some owners and developers seek to achieve a contemporary edginess by applying various types of metal or wood siding. Every location is different, and the focal point should be planned accordingly.

Once the focal point is designed, the remainder of the facility is generally more durable and economic. This makes sense, as form follows function. The office is used to attract attention and serve customers, so it can be dynamic. The rest of the property is more repetitious and simplistic.

Maintainability

The maintainability of the big-box storage portion of the building is crucial. The goal is to use a durable, easy-to-maintain material around the property perimeter. Concrete block or brick creates great longevity. In many cases, these materials are used on the first-floor drive-up locations, and then a more economical product is used for the upper floors.

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Upper-floor materials can range dramatically in image and cost. Industrial metal-wall panels can create an edgy, contemporary backdrop. Sometimes stucco wall systems are mandated by local design standards. Since the storage function consumes the bulk of the building area, these exterior materials can drive the cost of the overall development.

In fact, local standards control many aspects of facility design and can inflate the project price tag. For example, in an urban environment, exterior glazing may be required, even though storage buildings really don’t need it. While “the back of the house” is largely functional and simplicity is the most economical solution, some vicinities require upgraded materials such as brick, stone or stucco, and may mandate certain percentages of each.

A requirement for vertical and horizontal articulation may also come into play. This is when the exterior wall must have varying heights as well as offsets in the floor plan to create depth and shadowing. Offsets create dynamic façades and vertical articulation. In some locations, they can eliminate the ability to design a gutter system. Both requirements add to the cost.

Color

In addition to impacting building materials and design guidelines, some municipalities will limit your color selections. This can be problematic, as your palette often affects your facility branding, which typically employs repetition of color on signage, roll-up doors and even large expanses of the building. If your use of color is restricted or even eliminated, the incorporation of color into your buildings can be as challenging as designing the remainder of the project.

Achieving your overall design goals on each project involves give and take. Form, materials and color have an impact on building longevity, visibility and cost. High-profile locations where the municipalities exert extreme control over design have led to a more upscale storage product than we’ve ever seen before. This ever-changing facility image is resulting in a new era of self-storage architecture.

Jeffrey S. Dallenbach, AIA, is a managing partner with Archcon Architecture, a full-service architecture, facility-assessment, project-management and joint-venture construction firm. For more information, call 210.493.2234; e-mail jeff@archconarchitecture.com; visit www.archconarchitecture.com.

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