Maximizing Space in Self-Storage Design: The Office, Drive Aisles and Two-Story Ramped Sites

Architecture is said to be all about the manipulation of space. In self-storage, its about the manipulation of spaces and everything that connects them. This article focuses on ways developers can maximize a self-storage site including the management office, drive aisles and ramped facilities.

April 12, 2013

6 Min Read
Maximizing Space in Self-Storage Design: The Office, Drive Aisles and Two-Story Ramped Sites

By Bruce Jordan

Architecture is said to be all about the manipulation of space. In self-storage, its about the manipulation of spaces and everything that connects them. After all, drive aisles are spaces, 5-by-5 and 10-by-15 units are spaces, and all that open setback area is also a space (albeit usually a landscaped space). How we choose to manipulate, connect and use these areas can have a profound impact on the success of a self-storage facility.

When designing a self-storage site, there are a number of factors that will have a bearing on the design. Client needs, zoning requirements, topography of the land, market considerations, community characteristics, location of the property, access and views will have competing influences. All these considerations need to be fully understood to design an attractive, well-functioning facility.

The Taj Mahal is a marvel in terms of its form and beauty, but I sure wouldnt want to have to access a 10-by-20 unit there! One of the most important considerations in self-storage design is how a project is viewed from the street and the accessibility of the entry sequence, the way by which a new customer views the facility, enters the site, parks and is invited into the office. Its also where returning customers negotiate the entry gates and drive to their units in the case of a single-story project, or the loading area in a multi-story facility.

This article focuses on ways self-storage developers can maximize their sites space including the management office, drive aisles and even the ramp for a two-story project.

The Office

The management office should be the most architecturally prominent feature on the site. This ensures customers will easily locate the office and feel invited to visit. You want to think retail, not industrial, when designing the office, since 60 percent of your customers are women. I like to use large glass areas so a potential customer can easily see the interior office and customer-service counter, which enhances the feeling of safety and security.

The office building at Super Storage in Temecula, Calif., is architecturally appealing, giving it a unique look.

The management office is your initial opportunity to convey the organization, safety and security thats so important to the typical customer. A light, bright and airy office will help the manager and the customer psychologically, giving the former a better view and control of the front parking area and security gates, and giving customers a sense of protection.

The management office also provides a chance to separate you from competitors. Offering a coffee bar, conference room or small work stations supported by WiFi are relatively inexpensive ways to get an edge. The customer-service counter should be prominently featured, and the security monitors should be displayed directly behind or above it to ensure the office environment projects security.

The spacious management office at Magellan Storage in Costa Mesa, Calif., conveys organization, safety and security.

A comfortable sitting area and retail display are areas that deserve attention. They should make use of color and light, with sufficient space to provide a pleasant experience for the customer. Management offices range in size from small (less than 300 square feet) to large (3,500-plus square feet). An approximately 1,500-square-foot office is a comfortable size. Creative use of the space is whats important here. Presenting an attractive, user-friendly office that feels secure will go a long way toward making your facility a success.

Drive Aisles

Drive aisles are spaces, too, so they need to accommodate vehicular traffic in an effective way. Passenger vehicles and pick-up trucks will make up the majority of your traffic. However, drive aisles and turning radii need to accommodate larger moving trucks as well as firefighting equipment.

Wide drive aisles enhance the design appeal at Garfield Self Storage in Bell Gardens, Calif., which was later acquired by A-1 Self Storage.A minimum of 28-foot-wide longitudinal drive aisles and 35-foot-wide end aisles is recommended. This combination will provide sufficient turning radii for larger trucks, and the 28-foot-wide minimum aisles will accommodate the fire marshals typically required 20-foot minimum clear fire lane. It will also allow 8 feet of parallel parking on the side adjacent to the storage units.

Many self-storage owners prefer a fortress-style design where the storage buildings are on the property's outside perimeter. This provides security and maximizes the building area. With fortress design, the drive aisle is double-loaded and takes up less space, so theres more room for income-producing storage units.

If youre considering a multi-story, elevator-served facility, the access and parking for the loading areas is critical. Elevators and loading areas need to be located to minimize travel distance to the furthest units. This usually means a central location with five to 10 parking spaces, several of which will accommodate moving trucks.

Provide a covered loading area where possible. This takes on more importance in cold-weather climates. Canopies can provide protection for sun and rain but also hold speakers for music, all of which add to the user-friendliness of the facility. Elevator lobbies in the loading areas and on the upper floors should have a minimum lobby width of 10 feet to allow for the maneuvering of carts.

The Two-Story Ramp

Since were talking about the creative use of space, Id like to discuss the advantage of the two-story, ramp-served project. This concept was pioneered when land prices were escalating and the coverage of a single-story facility would not pencil. This facility features a ramp over earth fill, usually with 10 percent slope. Customers drive up the ramp to access the second-floor units.

The benefit of this design is it provides two-story coverage while functioning like a single-story facility. Elevators are eliminated, which reduces interior hallway space and increases the net square footage to a gross square-footage ratio. Two-story, ramp-served facilities can achieve as much as 88 percent net-to-gross ratio where a two-story, elevator-served facility will likely only achieve about 75 percent ratio. A ramp facility is a great solution where coverage needs to support higher land costs.

For all facilities, the largest units should be readily accessible from the drive aisles, or from the entry points if the facility has internal or elevator-access units. Travel distance should not exceed 180 feet to the most remote units. Wherever possible, keep the hallways straight and predictable. Your customers shouldnt need GPS and a coal miners hat to navigate your interior hallway system.

Self-storage is a retail business and the product is space. A user-friendly, safe and secure environment housed in an aesthetically pleasing, well-designed building will help you achieve the most competitive facility in your community.

Bruce Jordan is president of Jordan Architects Inc. He has more than 30 years of experience in architecture, preceded by an extensive background in construction and real estate development. Jordan's experience includes professional office buildings, high-density residential projects, mixed-use projects, retail facilities, hotels, restaurants, industrial, commercial and specialty projects such as museums and theme parks. For more information, call 949.388.8090; visit

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