Are you in the market for a new home? If so, you may want to consider looking at a former parking garage, because they just might be the next place where developers are looking to build. In the United States alone, there are more than 500 million parking spots for 326 million citizens, covering approximately 2,500 square miles of land. Despite the push for a "car-free" future, more of these structures keep springing up across the country. If cities are building parking garages to support the need for the cars of today, how might we rethink their design so they can outfit the autonomous vehicle ambitions of tomorrow?
It’s also important to consider that the standard design of parking garages are not known for their aesthetically inspiring qualities. These massive concrete structures often disrupt vibrant street life and serve as a painful reminder of just how much we rely on our vehicles. The parking garage’s ugly cousin, the parking lot, serves less of a purpose, by covering more area with pavement, creating runoff and pollution for surrounding waterways, and overall, offering less real estate for cars.
Enter the architect. In the last few years, practices around the globe have begun to reconsider how parking garages might be transformed into a variety of programs in the future, giving these structures a design and longevity that they have not experienced before.
For example, LMN in Seattle is designing a tower that is intended to withstand the next 50-100 years. If current plans are approved, the tower will contain residential units, a hotel, office space, retail, eight floors of underground parking, and four levels of above-grade parking designed to someday take on a new life as more apartment units and offices. The parking garage features completely flat floor plates and an elevator that is used to carry cars between floors.
Further down the coast lies Los Angeles, a city where parking is notoriously hard to find, and drivers dream of a day without traffic. Gensler’s L.A. office has proposed a garage of the future. Its level, rather than inclined floors, were designed to be the perfect home to new programs. The two levels of underground parking can be transformed into a gym, theater, and other recreational uses, while the upper floors can house more shops and restaurants, and enable quick pick-ups and drop-offs by autonomous cars.
However ambitious these designs may be, redesigning a parking garage is both a major financial and design challenge. Converting a lot into an inhabitable area for humans calls for a completely new method of construction. The necessary engineering for this is heavier than for parked cars, thus builders must reinforce the floors in a convertible parking garage from the beginning of the building process. They must plan for the future ductwork and piping, space columns accordingly so that they can support future weight, and work with a design flow. These are just some of the factors that must be considered when planning for the future of parking garages.
Being that the desire for faster, affordable, and environmentally friendly methods of transportation is on the rise, it’s time for all designers to consider how to give these garages a second life. Redesigning buildings for different uses have already proven to be successful. Take industrial warehouses turned into trendy apartments, but now think of the possibility of a parking garage that you live, shop, and work in.