Sky-High Storage: The Rise Of Vertical Self-Storage Solutions

Posted by Robin Murphy on Apr 16, 2024 5:06:13 PM
In the densely populated cores of cities, where land is a premium commodity, the self-storage industry is undergoing a transformative shift. This shift, from traditional single-story horizontal facilities to multistory vertical structures, is not just a trend but a necessity, driven by the unique challenges and opportunities of urban space management. Our own self-storage projects in cities like Seattle and Portland are key examples of these revolutionary responses to urban space constraints and evolving building codes.
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Embracing Verticality

Gone are the days when self-storage facilities were only relegated to the outskirts of town. In urban centers, the demand for storage space is on the rise, yet the availability of land remains static. This challenge has led our team to reimagine self-storage, transitioning from sprawling facilities to multistory structures. There are pros and cons between traditional and vertical storage solutions, including:

  • Cost Efficiency – Traditional single-story facilities typically require less initial investment due to simpler construction and lower land costs outside urban centers. However, vertical storage solutions, while having higher upfront costs due to complex construction and urban land prices, offer greater revenue potential per square foot. By utilizing vertical space, these facilities can accommodate more units in a smaller footprint, leading to higher returns over time.
  • Time Efficiency – The construction time for traditional, single-story storage units is generally shorter, given their simpler design and construction. Vertical facilities, in contrast, require more time for construction due to their complexity and compliance with stricter urban building codes. However, the long-term time efficiency of vertical storage is notable, as these facilities can serve more customers in dense urban environments, leading to quicker lease-up and potentially a faster return on investment (ROI).
  • Space Efficiency – Vertical storage facilities excel in space efficiency. In densely populated urban areas, where land availability is limited, going vertical is a strategic way to maximize the use of limited space. This contrasts with traditional storage facilities, which require large land areas for generally larger storage units and vehicle maneuvering and are often located on the outskirts of urban centers, making them less accessible to city dwellers.
  • Structural Design Considerations – Vertical self-storage facilities require robust structural designs to ensure safety and stability. This involves advanced engineering to manage the load-bearing requirements of multistory buildings, especially in areas prone to seismic activity or extreme weather conditions.
  • Construction Type Considerations – As a building grows in area and number of stories, the building code requires an increase in the construction type to mitigate the associated risk. The code outlines several methods for constructing taller buildings, many of which involve the use of a podium base.
  • Zoning Regulations and Compliance – Navigating zoning regulations is a significant challenge for vertical storage solutions. Urban areas often have stringent zoning laws, requiring developers to obtain various permits and adhere to specific construction standards. This process can be time-consuming and costly, impacting the overall feasibility of such projects.
  • Community Responses and Integration – Community response to vertical storage facilities can vary. While these structures provide a much-needed service in dense urban areas, they must be designed to blend seamlessly with the urban landscape. Aesthetic considerations, traffic impact, and the facility’s contribution to the neighborhood’s character are essential factors in gaining community acceptance and support.
While vertical self-storage presents unique challenges in terms of cost, construction time, structural design, zoning, and community integration, the benefits of space efficiency, higher revenue potential, and urban accessibility make it a compelling solution for urban storage needs.

Seattle And Portland Case Studies

Projects of ours in Seattle (a case of rapid urban expansion) and Portland (a case of strategic urban management) serve as prime case studies of this vertical transformation.Vertical_Seattle-removebg-preview
Seattle, known for its dynamic growth, saw a significant increase of 21 percent of people over the last decade, placing the city among the fastest growing in the county. This surge underscores a critical need for space-efficient solutions in urban areas. The conventional sprawl of single-story storage facilities on the city’s outskirts is no longer viable, given the premium on land and the growing demand for storage close to where people live and work. Vertical self-storage emerges as a practical response to these challenges, offering a way to maximize storage capacity within the limited urban space.


In Seattle, the scope of our work is further highlighted. A standout project is a 10-story high-rise (Type 1B construction) that combines storage, work lofts, parking, and a residential unit, exemplifying the versatility of vertical self-storage in urban settings. Another vertical storage project within the greater Seattle area (Shoreline, Wash.) features a five-story, effective mix of two stories of Type 1A construction with three stories of Type 2B, further demonstrating the creative possibilities unleashed by the new building codes.

In contrast, Portland’s approach to urban development focuses on managing growth within existing urban boundaries. This strategy aligns with the need for space-efficient storage solutions that complement the city’s commitment to sustainable and compact urban growth. By integrating vertical self-storage solutions, Portland can address its storage needs without encroaching on the city’s footprint, thereby preserving its unique urban character and reducing the impact on the surrounding environment. In Portland, we designed a six-story self-storage facility utilizing a 3/3 split through an Alternate Means and Methods (AMM) request, showcasing our ability to maximize urban space while adhering to regulatory requirements.


Both Seattle’s rapid growth and Portland’s strategic urban management highlight the urgent need for innovative self-storage solutions. Vertical self-storage not only addresses the scarcity of available land but also offers a sustainable approach to urban development.



A New Era With 2021 IBC Code Changes

The changes in the 2021 International Building Code (IBC) have been groundbreaking! Set to come into effect in March 2024 in the Northwest, these changes will permit the construction of buildings up to four stories using Type 2B construction. This marks a significant departure from the previous restrictions, which only allowed for the construction of one story of Type 1A atop three stories of Type 2B, and that too only through an AMM request.
This evolution in building codes is not just a regulatory shift; it’s an opportunity to redefine urban architecture and maximize the utility of every square foot. Such regulatory advancements have opened new doors for architects and developers, enabling them to explore more ambitious and efficient designs.


To provide a broader perspective, it’s important to note that different regions and cities across the United States have their own modifications of the IBC, tailored to their specific environmental and urban challenges. For instance, cities in California may have stricter seismic design requirements, while those in hurricane-prone areas like Florida have different wind load specifications. Both the states of Oregon and California have rewritten the IBC to their own standards, but they’re still based on the risk forming principals of the IBC.


Comparing these changes to other urban areas reveals a diverse approach to city development and construction standards, influenced by regional factors such as climate, geography, and density. Some areas might adopt more stringent measures for fire safety or environmental sustainability, while others focus on flexibility to encourage development.



  • Increased Complexity in Design and Construction – The allowance for higher buildings under the new code requires more complex architectural and engineering solutions. This includes considerations for structural integrity, safety, and compliance with higher standards.
  • Cost Implications – While the new code allows for greater height and density, it can also lead to increased costs. More stories mean more materials, advanced safety features, and possibly higher labor costs.
  • Regulatory Compliance – Navigating the new code can be challenging for developers and architects. Ensuring compliance with the latest standards demands thorough understanding and often necessitates consultation with experts in building code regulation.
  • Community Impact – Higher buildings can have a significant impact on the surrounding community. They can alter the skyline, block views, affect traffic patterns, and have implications for local infrastructure.
  • Environmental Considerations – Taller buildings can have different environmental footprints, requiring careful planning regarding energy efficiency, waste management, and sustainability practices.


Vertical self-storage not only addresses the scarcity of available land but also offers a sustainable approach to urban development.



  • Design – Vertical storage facilities offer a canvas for architectural innovation. Unlike the traditional, utilitarian appearance of horizontal storage facilities, vertical structures can be designed with modern, aesthetically pleasing elements that blend with or even enhance the urban skyline.
  • Customization – These buildings provide opportunities for unique branding and design customization. Creative use of façade treatments, lighting, and signage can turn a storage facility into a landmark that contributes positively to the urban aesthetic.
  • Mixed-Use Potential – Vertical self-storage facilities can be integrated into mixed-use developments, combining storage with residential, retail, or office spaces. This integration not only maximizes land use but also contributes to the vibrancy and diversity of urban neighborhoods.
  • Enhancements – By going vertical, storage facilities contribute to urban density, a key component in the development of walkable, transit-oriented neighborhoods. This density can lead to more efficient land use and better integration with other urban functions.



  • Reduced Footprint – Vertical storage facilities offer a reduced land footprint, which is especially beneficial in urban areas where land is scarce and valuable.
  • Energy Efficiency and Stormwater Management – Modern vertical storage buildings are at the forefront of combining energy efficiency with stormwater management. Designed with solar panels, energy-efficient lighting, and HVAC systems, these buildings significantly lower environmental impacts. Additionally, green roofs and permeable surfaces play a crucial role in managing runoff, easing the load on urban sewer systems.
  • Sustainable Materials and Construction – The construction of vertical storage facilities offers the opportunity to use sustainable materials and construction practices. This includes the use of recycled materials, low-impact construction methods, and sustainable waste management during construction.

Charting The Future Of Urban Self-Storage

As cities navigate urbanization’s challenges and opportunities, evolving self-storage solutions become crucial. The trend toward vertical self-storage transcends mere reaction to current demands, embodying a visionary approach that prepares for the future urban landscape. Through innovative design and continued strategic utilization of urban spaces, the industry is establishing new benchmarks in self-storage, leading the way to a future that is more organized, functional, sustainable, and aesthetically appealing.
Robin Murphy is the owner and senior principal of Jackson | Main Architecture, P.S., an award-winning, integrated architectural firm with extensive experience in designing self-storage facilities across diverse settings such as rural, suburban, and dense-urban areas.
With over two decades of experience in the self-storage industry and licensure in 19 states and provinces, he is a highly skilled and knowledgeable architect. He is also a LEED-accredited professional, signifying his expertise in sustainable design practices, and is a member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA).
Furthermore, Murphy serves as a member of the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards. Jackson | Main Architecture, P.S., can be reached at (206) 324-4800 or