Plug-In Parking / Popular Architecture

Courtesy of

Brooklyn-based Popular Architecture shared with us their proposal for the Downtown Urban Infill Competition. More images and architect’s description after the break.

The elephant in the room of this competition for a 250,000 SF mixed-used development is its need to include a 500 car parking ramp, to be owned and operated by the City of Fargo, that the City wants to build as soon as possible. Typically treated as structures that are mere means to an end, parking ramps are usually pushed to the least prime pieces of real estate, with their designs emphasizing a hard bottom-line efficiency of structure and organization.

Courtesy of Popular Architecture

While parking is frequently physically peripheral, it has a central role as an intermodal node, negotiating the transition between vehicular and pedestrian movement. We think the experience of this transition could be greatly enriched by activating the parking ramp’s latent connective possibilities.

Our project does this by performing several simple operations on the Carl Walker-designed ramp already proposed to the City for the northeast corner of the competition site: the first is to rotate the ramp into the center of the block; the second is to split apart the ramp’s spiral, pushing three levels underground to create a void space in its middle that extends the City’s existing pedestrian Skyway system.

The Skyway is further extended by a broad stair connecting all upper levels of the ramp as well as a roof park. The pedestrian and the vehicular are intertwined for their mutual benefit.

Courtesy of Popular Architecture

Freeing the perimeter of the block and expanding the Skyway into the center create a “plug-in” condition for four buildings that activate the entire site. Together with the ramp, the buildings define three plazas able to serve more public programs on Broadway, more quiet ones on 5th Street North, and the existing US Bank on 2nd Avenue North. Above grade, the buildings create a “drive-in” condition where parking with direct access to programs such as offices, restaurants, health clubs, and stores topologically extends the street. The ramp becomes customized infrastructure, tailored to the specificities of its Fargo site in a way that unleashes numerous potentials.

The massing of the four buildings is determined by the 12pm sun angle of the December 21st winter solstice. Through maximizing winter gains for the apartments on the upper floors, the project proposes using the Passive House approach for heating: by using high levels of insulation and airtightness, it becomes possible with good solar and internal gains to heat with a heat recovery ventilator (HRV), where naturally warmed internal air being exhausted transfers its heat via the HRV to incoming fresh air. The overall goal of the approach is a factor 10 reduction in energy consumption.

Courtesy of Popular Architecture

Architects: Popular Architecture
Location: Fargo, North Dakota
Design Team: Aurelien Boyer, Prae Lorvidhaya, Casey Mack
Client: Kilbourne Group / Downtown Fargo Urban Infill Competition
Environmental Engineering: Arup
Project Area: 250,000 sq ft
Renderings: David Huang
Graphic Design: Omnivore

Cite: Jordana, Sebastian. "Plug-In Parking / Popular Architecture" 03 Jan 2011. ArchDaily. Accessed 23 May 2015. <>
  • PatrickLBC

    Very cool… functional and progressive urban design… in Fargo no less!

  • Holcim Awards US

    This is a great proposal for making a lively urban development around a parking garage. Really creative with an excellent attention to sustainable design strategies.

    Check out the Holcim Awards for Sustainable Construction:
    Online Entry form:
    More info:

  • Drew

    The lows in Fargo are below zero right now. The concept is fascinating, but there’s no mention of the specific type of insulation used (spray polyurethane, fiberglass, etc). They’d have to stack fiberglass two feet high for a decent R-Value in those buildings.