The Role of Building Systems in Warehouse Design

The Role of Building Systems in Warehouse Design

Warehouse design is evolving and changing the way retail operates in many ways. Store fronts with stylish ensembles and grocery locations showcasing appetizing fresh produce are being replaced by well-lit product photography and easy to use online shopping portals. Rather than building new stores, retailers are building warehouses to meet the high delivery expectations consumers have in today’s world.

Henderson Engineers has been designing retail and grocery locations for more than 30 years. A partner to some of the biggest names in the industry, we’re seeing first-hand how the new definition of convenience is fundamentally impacting capital investments. As more and more companies implement delivery and pick-up services, they’re also having to re-purpose their existing spaces and build new facilities to support this growth.

The Reason for Warehouses

It’s no secret that Amazon and single-click purchasing power have caused a radical evolution across the retail terrain. Today retailers and grocers, like Walmart and Target, with networks of physical locations, are leveraging their brick and mortar stores to offer pick-up services to compete with the modern delivery culture. For many, this has resulted in new layouts and remodels to make room for pick-up stations and order storage.

The innovation doesn’t stop there, though, and it’s not just about the space in the store. To fulfill the online orders and make them available at the pick-up counter, a personal shopper, or artificial intelligence robot, collects all of the items from the shelves. Not only does this affect the man power necessary to pull orders, but now the shelves need to restocked more frequently for customers who choose to shop in-store. To combat this added effort and still leverage their locations, some retailers are choosing to build store front locations with warehouses attached.

Growing with The Industry

Warehouses are the natural progression of retail. They’re not distribution centers that act as a hub for merchandise traveling from vendor to patron anymore. Today’s warehouses are built to store large amounts of inventory so that it can move from stocked to delivered as quickly as possible. Shipping individual products from inventory to the end consumer rather than pallets of products to a retail location means there’s a host of new, high-priority considerations when designing a modern warehouse.

Things like space conditioning, ADA compliance, and refrigeration were not always needed, but are now because of the additional people and changes that are necessary in the new product fulfillment process. Since the functionality of the space has evolved, warehouse design consultants need the building systems to adjust with it.

Building Systems in Warehouse Design

Most warehouses are being built in one of three ways:

  • From the ground up – Uniquely designed by the owner
  • Remodeled in dense urban areas – Utilized to offer expedited delivery
  • As core & shell development properties – Interior build out completed once a tenant is secured

No matter which method is being considered, engaging an engineer for your warehouse design consultant team should be done as early as possible. Understanding the role of building systems early on can help avoid headaches later.


The HVAC and plumbing of a warehouse are necessary to create a comfortable environment for employees and protect inventory. Managing the temperature and humidity levels to house various types of inventory can be complex, but necessary. One of the common issues we encounter with mechanical systems in warehouse design is in dense urban environments. Sometimes the structure of an older space is not strong enough to support the roof-top equipment that is usually necessary in these areas. Structural improvements are often an unforeseen expense for owners.


The progression of warehouse design requires better lighting, more technology, security, and even emergency systems. Each of these requires electricity, which can overload existing electrical infrastructure supplying a building. Urban area remodels and development projects need to consider utility supply needs prior to design because many of these districts may not be prepared for the warehouse’s needs. Fixing this issue, especially during tenant improvement can impact the owner’s cost and schedule.


Cold storage and refrigeration design are specialty fields. For warehouses that store temperature sensitive inventory, like groceries and produce, having a system that’s properly designed and functions reliably is vital to success. That’s why it is so important to make sure they are designed and functioning properly. Facilities could face catastrophic inventory loss due to incorrect temperature settings and injuries from moisture because of humidity issues.

Telecom & Security

Now housing more inventory, warehouses are more secure and sophisticated. Many facilities utilize access control and cameras to protect employees and inventory. In addition, the technology needed to operate the advanced, high-production rates has to be supported by reliable wi-fi and data systems. Planning for telecom and security can help improve their success.

Functionality in Warehouses

To safeguard the performance of the facility, our team recommends commissioning. Warehouse design has a number of complex systems, such as HVAC, humidity control, emergency power, and cold storage, that should be tested and maintained regularly. The controls that integrate all these building systems need to be reviewed and verified by commissioning agents to make sure the warehouse is ready to store product. Having equipment and controls tested through commissioning is one of the best risk management strategies in the construction process.

At Henderson, we’re uniquely equipped to design and commission warehouses. It’s more than knowing the retail and grocery industries, it’s understanding what our clients are trying to achieve with their facilities. If you have questions or are looking for an engineer for your warehouse design consultant team, contact us here.

Written By

Grocery & Distribution Sector Executive

Written By

Sector Practice Manager


Recent Insights

Climate Responsive Design: A Giga-Scale Responsibility

Matt Higgins, lead energy analyst, shares expert insights into how to adapt to climate change by rethinking how we design buildings.

Read More

Exploring the Key Elements of Computational Thinking (Part 1)

The latest installment in a series of articles focused on computational thinking’s role in problem-solving, specifically as it pertains to the architecture, engineering, and construction industry.

Read More


Join our email list to get the latest design innovations, technical content, new projects, and research from Henderson’s experts delivered straight to your inbox.