Designing parking garages for life after cars

Parking garages can be designed in such a way so that they can be converted into other spaces if need be:

There’s a growing belief among architects and designers that all urban parking garages should be built with these “good bones,” which will allow them to be re-purposed in the future. For a variety of reasons, from higher gas prices to greater densification to better transit options, city residents will continue to drive fewer cars. As a result, we’ll eventually require fewer parking lots. The ability to adapt a structure rather than tear it down will save developers time, money, and material waste.

“As the auto culture wanes we’re going to have a lot of demolition to do, which is unfortunate,” says Tom Fisher, dean of the College of Design at the University of Minnesota. “If we’re going to build these [garages] let’s design them in a way that they can have alternative uses in the future. With just a few tweaks that’s really possible.”

Fisher says designing parking structures with an eye toward their afterlife is not only logical but rather simple. His three key elements to an adaptable garage design are flat floors, comfortable floor-to-ceiling heights, and enough loading capacity (in other words, strength) to support another structural use. Those types of changes may cost a tiny bit more up front but will provide enormous savings down the line…

New York isn’t the only place where this re-use is happening. During a recent talk, Fisher pointed out a few other examples from the Twin Cities and elsewhere around the country. In St. Paul, a developer is converting a century-old building from a garage into an apartment complex; in Miami Beach, a parking ramp is being used for retail and housing purposes.

While cars are not going away anytime soon, occasionally converting parking garages can happen. Yet, it would be interesting to see the money that converting requires versus tearing down the garage and building a new structure. I also imagine there are limits to what parking garages can be converted to.

I wonder if the fact that a building was formerly a parking garage is also part of the marketing. That might be a very different ring than saying it was a former factory or theater or church.

Parking garage proposal for Sheridan Road in Chicago sparks discussion of parking, New Urbanism, and a past golden age

A recent proposal for a new parking garage on Sheridan Road in Rogers Park has prompted further conversations about the neighborhood:

“Sheridan was a beautiful lakefront boulevard, a model of urban design that should be reclaimed, not transformed into a suburban highway,” said Susan Olin, a community activist who would be a neighbor to the 250-car garage proposed by prominent real estate developer Jennifer Pritzker.

But the local alderman, Joe Moore, not only supports the project, he also thinks its opponents have a wildly romantic vision of what Sheridan Road once was…

Moore said the Sheridan Road of yesteryear was a hodgepodge of gas stations, billboards and empty lots, in addition to stately and substantial family homes…

To some residents, that blend of a natural landscape and an urban skyline is Rogers Park’s aesthetic trump card, said John Norquist, president of the Congress for the New Urbanism.

“Against that backdrop, Pritzker’s garage would be way, way out of scale,” said Norquist, who lives nearby. “It could fit in the Loop. Maybe in Schaumburg, but not in a city neighborhood.”…

Pritzker’s designers declined the suggestion for mixed use, and the latest plan shows parking spaces from top to bottom. According to a representative, Pritzker was traveling and unavailable for an interview.

This is a great example of the conversations that erupt with urban development:

1. A set of current residents wants to preserve the neighborhood as it is and a parking garage does not fit their image of a cozy neighborhood that will meet their interests in rising property values.

2. The alderman thinks the project has merit because it will add parking but also possibly because a new development might help bring new money into the neighborhood.

3. The discussion of the parking garage leads to conversations about whether the neighborhood should harken back to a golden era or plan for the future.

4. This isn’t just about the parking garage; residents are worried any such project (or a fast food joint or a big box store) will open the floodgates to lots more new development.

5. Attempts to make the garage more palatable by including retail space on the first floor or some kind of mixed use have been rebuffed so far by the developer.

Perhaps the only question left is how this episode will conclude. Based on what is in this article and what the alderman says at the end of the article about the neighborhood support and disapproval for the garage running 50/50, I suspect the garage will happen in some form.

Designer parking garages in Miami

Parking garages tend not to have good reputations as they are often functional blocks of concrete that are measured by how many cars they can fit. But, Miami apparently has a number of “designer” garages including a proposed parking elevator for a new high-rise:

The $560 million Jetsonesque tower will rise in Sunny Isles Beach as part of a collaboration between Germany-based Porsche Design Group and a local developer, Gil Dezer. It likely will be the world’s first condominium complex with elevators that will take residents directly to their units while they are sitting in their cars…

Here is how it will work: After the resident pulls over and switches off the engine, a robotic arm that works much like an automatic plank will scoop up the car and put it into the elevator. Once at the desired floor, the same robotic arm will park the car, leaving the resident nearly in front of his front door. Voila, home!

The glass elevators will give residents and their guests unparalleled views of the city or of the ocean during their high-speed ride, expected to last 45 to 90 seconds…

The car elevators are the latest twist on Miami Beach’s burgeoning passion for designer parking garages. The highly acclaimed 1111 Lincoln Road designed by Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron opened in 2009; also planned are garages by London architect Zaha Hadid, Mexico’s Enrique Norten and Miami’s own Arquitechonica.

Being able to live in a luxury condo that is greatly enhanced by parking right outside of your door sounds like a uniquely American prize. This is another reminder how American culture is dominated by the automobile.

At the same time, this could also be seen as an architectural or design issue: how can one successfully design parking garages so they are aesthetically pleasing? While these garages in Miami might be for more luxurious residences, there are other options. One option that seems to be growing in popularity is underground garages. While this is great in dense urban spaces where valuable land can’t be wasted on a separate parking structure, it can also be found in denser suburban developments where the goal is to allow condo or townhome owners to park directly below their units and to keep the garage out of sight. After all, large houses with prominent garages may be called “snout houses” in reference to the overarching emphasis on where the garage is going to be parked.

This reminds me of one of the parking decks in Naperville. The Van Buren structure features a stained glass window memorializing the “Cars of the Century.” Also, Wheaton has done a nice job of hiding their downtown garage behind more traditional looking structures.