“The market is changing faster than we can build”

Tholen – “The question of why not to build is much more important than the question: should we build?”, says Herman Bessels, architect and founder of Bessels Architects and Engineers. Herman notes in the September edition of the trade magazine Primeur that many problems that arise subsequently in the construction process were already known in advance. He mentions aspects such as ecology, regulations, preparatory decisions, budget, manufacturing capacity, delivery capacity or future growth models as examples. “Such aspects are often not considered in advance, which causes many problems afterwards.”

“We often start with a team of a lawyer, an ecologist, a planner, a structural engineer and a process consultant, who are all given a short and powerful task of outlining the possible problems in their area within three weeks, as well as a broad solution. Then you keep the consulting costs and time in your hands.”

Bessels, for example, has recently achieved results with the construction of a cold store. “The freezer had to be 30 meters high. After this study, it was found that this requires a procedure of perhaps 7 years. A height of 19.80 meters was found to be licensed after 7 months. Another example is a plot where an ecological corridor across the site would make an almost impossibly expensive construction process. Eventually we were able to move the zone a mile and a half and make it four times as wide; everyone happy.”

Herman notes that at the heart of all this is how delays can be prevented. “You can overcome a lot of problems in the construction process by running things in parallel. If you ensure that a selection of contractors has been made as soon as the preliminary design is 80 percent ready, you can already look for the most optimal versions in terms of materials, time and costs. Building is finally becoming a science and not all knowledge is in one person. You have to do it as a team and be open to it.”

Irregular market causes shifts
Another aspect that makes building the fresh produce sector complex is the enormous volatility of the market, says Herman. He sees that, where all fresh food packaging was previously geared towards families of at least five people, packaging is now increasingly intended for single-person households. “The consumer mixes his own meal in the store. It makes for an insane change of what needs to be done. A different product demand requires a different building.”

But just-in-time delivery is also a big challenge, notes the architect, especially in combination with the increasingly irregular delivery demand. As an example, he mentions the tomato shelf at Edeka Zur Heide Feine Kost, Berlinerallee in Düsseldorf, where 35 different qualities, combinations and packaging make the supply chain complex and therefore also make demands on these suppliers’ buildings. The future according to Herman: “Go and look.”

As the market changes, so do the requirements for a building. “No building is used as designed. The market is changing faster than we can build. The market is fresh every day and the building will last at least 30 years. There is a huge contradiction there.” When designing a building, Bessels therefore strives to add as much flexibility as possible for future changes. “Without falling into designing a Swiss Army knife. Such a pocket knife looks beautiful, everything is included and it costs a lot of money. But if you want to peel an apple, take a one-euro Hema knife and it peels even better.”

Therefore, it is important for Herman not to think in terms of buildings, but in terms of structures. “As a result, you can now be competitive and future-proofed.” Aspects that play a role in this are, for example, giving the roof more bearing capacity than just for solar panels or a building with greater height. “Another example is the division of the building into smoke and soot rooms of 3000 m2. This results in an insurable building and lower premium costs, even in the long run. Ask the question from day one: what can I do with the building when we have outgrown it or need something else?”

Sustainability must for funding
The pursuit of this multi-functionality also seems to play a role in the financing of new buildings, which Herman notes that these are less and less exclusively banking. He sees that there are financing options and that the residual value of a property when the established user leaves is also an important aspect in these parallel flows. “Industrial buildings suitable for the food sector often have very specific requirements, which means that these buildings are less common. Therefore, we aim for multifunctionality of these buildings, because a really good alternative usability has led to a significantly lower interest in some of our projects. This, of course, with the most optimal usage options.”

Sustainability is another aspect that is important when financing a project. “It’s just a must. It increases the investment value of a property. You can compare it to a car. Before you bought a petrol guzzler, it didn’t matter until petrol became very expensive. Then everyone looked at fuel-efficient or electric cars. In the end, it is the market that largely determines what happens.” But sustainability at the level of functionality is also important, says Herman. “The greatest sustainability lies in designing a building that will continue to fulfill its function for many years to come, and then structural thinking also comes into play.”

Condensation
Herman points out that condensation is one of the biggest problems in food buildings, not only in the room itself, but also in parts of the structure and floors in adjacent rooms. “Condensation is a food source for many genes. If you are going to design a food factory, think about how to prevent this from day one. Drawing a building without insight into the condensation problem causes many problems afterwards. Mathematical rules cannot be given, it is mainly the pragmatic factor and experience that determines what you should do. Now, but also with adjustments due to future developments.”

He notes that a lot can be overcome with sanitary ceilings if they are well designed. “Sanitary ceilings cost money, but also provide a lot: Less cleaning and easier compliance with food requirements. But more importantly, you can change everything above the ceiling at the last minute and over the years and perform maintenance without contact with the production area. Above all: food requires a lot of experience, but it is also one of the interesting parts of the building design market,” concludes Herman.

This article was previously published in number 9, volume 36 of Primeur. See www.agfprimeur.nl.

For more information:
Herman Bessels
Bessels Architects and Engineers
HBessels@bessels.com

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