Feet³

Real estate is a three-dimensional asset that we value using two-dimensional metrics. Strange? For certain sectors such as offices, measuring the floorspace is a fairly-accurate indication of the number of employees that can fit on the floor and hence the productivity that can be generated in the space, (albeit double decker desks are technically possible…). However, when it comes to warehouses, where pallets are stacked on top of each other, measuring the space purely by square feet looks increasingly insensible. On an earnings call last week, Amazon’s CFO, Brian Olsavksy stated that they are ‘debating whether the dynamics of the warehouse are changing, so that square footage may not be the main indicator – [it] might be cubic feet’. The growing demand for next or same day delivery from e-commerce companies is driving a requirement for urban logistics, where land costs are higher and the need to use space more intensively is hence greater. In these circumstances, the dimension of height is more relevant. Of the top 10 largest buildings in the world by floor area, only two (the Great Mosque of Mecca and the Boeing Everett factory) would make it into the top buildings by volume. The majority of those with large volumes are for construction of large vehicles, whereas those with large areas are typically for distribution. If the commercialisation of distribution formats changes to better account for volume, might this create a shift to fewer, taller sheds?