Co-location developments: A new challenge for structural engineers

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As the global population continues to steadily increase, so does the popularity of co-location developments. 
By 2050, the population is expected to reach 9.7 billion – and, unsurprisingly, we simply don’t have enough available land to continue building residential and industrial spaces as entirely separate entities. Instead, we need to take a look at how they can co-exist in harmony.
In essence, a co-location development is one that includes both housing and shops, or offices and recreational spaces in close proximity. Perhaps a number of apartments may be located above a co-working space, or in the same building as a compact shopping district. With land being such a precious commodity – even more so in major cities like London – building upwards is far more cost- and space-effective compared to sprawling across several sought-after plots of land.
Efficiency is, of course, an integral part of maximising the available space in these developments – and that’s where the role of the structural engineer takes centre stage.

Collaboration & Construction
While working alongside the development’s architects and design team, it comes down to the structural engineer to decide how best to combine the conventions of a residential and industrial space. 
Typically, an apartment block would have a reinforced concrete frame, whereas a warehouse would have one made from steel. The former may include plenty of blade columns for stability, but the latter will usually have a cross-braced structure. A combination of the two may seem the obvious choice, but it’s certainly no easy feat to pull off.

Sustainability & Durability
The term ‘sustainability’ doesn’t necessarily translate to ‘eco-friendly’; it actually means the ability to consistently maintain something at a certain level. Our bustling towns and cities must be able to grow sustainably, with happy citizens, thriving industries and a wealth of employment opportunities. 
A structural engineer must consider how the development will stand the test of time, both in terms of its functionality, ability to withstand industrial operations and external factors such as turbulent weather conditions. Moving vehicles and vibrating machinery may also pose additional threats and must be accounted for in the early stages of planning.

Covid-19 & Beyond
By the end of the year, the sudden coronavirus-induced spike in online sales is expected to have brought in an additional £5.3 billion to the UK’s e-commerce sector. As a result of shifting consumer behaviour, many bricks-and-mortar shops have been unable to survive. We may see significantly less shops on our high streets, but it’s driven the need for larger warehouses to hold excess stock – and plenty more of them.
Striking the right balance between creating vibrant, welcoming community hubs and accommodating the need for more space to hold stock isn’t straightforward, but it’s crucial if we are to build a sustainable future. We’re beginning to see the first signs of success in the capital, but we should also soon start to see these kinds of developments mirrored in the likes of Birmingham and Manchester too.
If you’re looking to secure your next role in the engineering space or you’re looking to add the best talent to your business, then get in touch.

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