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Designing Self-Storage Projects: Reasons to Hire an Architect

One of the most common things architects hear from self-storage property owners is, Architects are too expensive. Why do I need to hire one? However, there are actually a number of very good reasons to use an architect for the design of self-storage project.

June 19, 2011

4 Min Read
Designing Self-Storage Projects: Reasons to Hire an Architect

By Kenneth K. Carrell

Before I get to the 101 uses for a dead architect, lets discuss why you should use a live one to design your self-storage facility. One of the most common things I hear from property owners is, Architects are too expensive. Why do I need to hire one? Besides the obvious answer, which is architects need the money, there are a number of very good reasons to use an architect for the design of your project.

Maximized Building Area

To begin, an architect who specializes in self-storage design understands how to lay out a site to obtain the most efficient use of the land. On one of my earlier projects, an engineer had originally designed a self-storage facility to include 45,000 square feet of gross building area. After reviewing his plan, I discovered the site could actually provide a minimum of 65,000 square feet. Once redesigned by an architect, the project contained 72,000 square feet.

Solutions for Odd-Shaped Parcels

Owners often solicit assistance from companies that deal in the design and construction of steel buildings. These companies are great at developing rectangular sites, providing standard-size buildings and layouts at a reasonable cost. Ive sometimes referred clients to these companies in the past because they would have spent too much on architectural services for such a straight, simple design.

However, companies that manufacture pre-fabricated structures dont excel at creating customized designs. When a site has an odd-ball shape, rectangular buildings wont cut the mustard. They tend to leave gaps between the property line and the back of the building that could be designed as usable space. When a site is an unusual shape, an architect can help you maximize the building area. Every square foot of unused property represents wasted money.


Something owners dont always take into consideration is the exterior design of their self-storage facility. Jurisdictions sometimes want a really attractive project, and owners sometimes do, too. An architect can generally provide a more eye-catching project, which will help bring in more customers. One project I worked on included a tower element that was visible from about a half mile away. Customers were drawn to the facility before it was even finished, as they could see the tower from a long way off.

Building-Code Knowledge

The current building-code book has more than 1,300 pages of rules and regulations. Architects deal with building codes every day. An architect will spend a few hours examining the codes to determine how much building can go on the site, how tall the structures can be, etc. Trying to design a project without checking the codes can result in one that is too big, throwing off the pro forma. And thats just one of many issues presented by building codes.

Overcoming Zoning Challenges

Architects can help a project progress through the governing jurisdiction more smoothly. Ive worked on both sides of the process. As an architect, Ive presented many projects to planning commissions and city councils. And as a former planning commissioner, I watched architects and owners present projects to the commissionsome successfully, some not.

Because architects deal with the rules and regulations of government on a daily basis, they understand the codes and guidelines necessary to design a project. Some jurisdictions almost require you to use an architect without coming right out and telling you that. Some can make the entitlement process fast, and some can drag it out in an attempt to discourage construction.

Avoiding Mistakes

Architects also stop clients from making serious mistakes. I recently worked on a project in which the client wanted to park recreational vehicles on a piece of property before he had the citys approval. When he told me what he planned to do, I explained the potential political ramifications of parking RVs there before the planners gave their blessingeven if it was legal to do so. Planners have a tendency to stretch things out if theyre not happy. Architects are good at slowing down anxious clients.

Architects who specialize in self-storage design generally provide a better result than off-the-shelf packages from manufacturers of pre-fabricated structures; and they are definitely more reliable than architects who have never designed a self-storage facility. Better layouts, custom design and maximizing the site are just a few of the reasons to use an architect.

As to the 101 uses for a dead architect, ask any contractor. Just be sure to stop him when he gets to 102!

Ken Carrell is the owner of ARE Associates, a architectural firm specializing in self-storage. ARE has been in business more than 10 years, and Mr. Carrell has been in the architectural field for more than 30. He has designed more than 100 self-storage facilities and is licensed in several states. To reach him, call 949.305.4752 or e-mail [email protected] . For more information, visit www.areassociates.com .

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