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Designing for the Future of Cargo Facilities

Justin Wortman
I recently had the privilege of joining a panel discussion at the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE) Conference in Anaheim, California, focused on airport planning, design and construction. We explored how to incorporate sustainability and resilience into airport cargo development projects to address the evolving consumer lifestyles and growing online shopping demands.

Joining me on the panel were Michelle Brantley, chief capital development officer at Ontario International Airport; Bryan Rosenberger, vice president, design & construction at Aeroterm; James Dean, project executive at the Walsh Group; and our moderator, Navin Nitish, vice president, global aviation at AECOM.

The panel discussed the synergies between operational efficiency and environmental sustainability, the importance of people-centric design and resilient design strategies.

Operational Efficiency and Environmental Sustainability

Cargo facilities are a key piece of the global logistics network. They require flexible designs that enable efficient, round-the-clock operations. It is vital to coordinate with airport operators and local authorities to ensure that the building has the necessary electricity, water, mechanical elements and overall infrastructure to run properly without disruptions.

Sustainable design strategies, such as solar panels, clerestory windows, skylights and window glazing can boost energy efficiency, as demonstrated at San Diego International Airport’s net-zero ready support facilities.

People-Centric Design

Remembering the human element is essential when designing cargo facilities. Workers, drivers and pilots often spend long hours in transit and require spaces to relax and recharge.

Cargo facilities can provide places of respite that prioritize the health and wellness of these individuals. Are there lounges to help them unwind? Are there sleeping pods, phone booths for private conversations, a kitchen for healthy eating or exercise areas? Will the building include biophilic design elements like natural materials, lush landscaping or windows for ample daylight? These amenities put people at the forefront.

Resilient Design Strategies

Extreme weather events can wreak havoc on our daily lives and threaten infrastructure. Planners and designers must consider these worst-case scenarios and develop resilient design strategies to minimize risks to people and supply chains. HOK’s Planning team, for example, has examined how coastal cities must prepare for rising sea levels. Cargo facilities should be designed to recover from these events and maintain the capacity to distribute goods effectively during crises.

Looking Ahead

As supply chain demands grow, we must design cargo facilities with operational efficiency, environmental sustainability, user experience and resilience in mind.

HOK designs aviation and transportation facilities across the globe. Please contact Justin Wortman, regional leader of Aviation + Transportation, at with any questions or to inquire about working together.

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