Canada's Condominium Magazine

Re-imagining the parking garage

Public parking in Toronto, as in most cities, has always been a very utilitarian, boring affair. Most of the ugly open ground-level parking lots have disappeared in the last couple of decades, and parking today is either underground, as at City Hall and many other downtown buildings, or in above-ground structures, like the one next to the Eaton Centre. Whether above or below-ground, they all have one thing in common: they are dreary, even dangerous places, certainly not places where  anyone would want to spend a minute more than necessary. The best that one can say about the typical city parking garage is that it doesn’t interfere too much with its surroundings.

But what if parking garages were designed by architects? What if, instead of building them to some bland, innocuous pattern that did its best to conceal itself, we designed structures that could stand on their own, even become destinations in their own right? What if parking garages contributed something of greater value to the communities in which they are built?

Copenhagen’s “green active parking house”

That is exactly what JAJA Architects in Copenhagen wanted theirs to do. The city held a competition for development of a site in a newer area of the Danish capital, and the architects won with their Park ‘n’ Play concept. According to the architects, their project “re-invents the parking structure” and makes the facades and roof both accessible and inviting to the public. It will also be the “first green, active parking house” in the area. “As an urban space, the new parking structure tells a story of an active city, and our project challenges the traditionally mono-functional use of a car park.”
Artist’s rendering of the rooftop playground at Copenhagen’s new Park ‘n’ Play designed by JAJA Architects. They believe that “parking houses” should be an integral part of the city, not “mono-functional” structures.

The concrete structure, tinted pink to resemble the bricks in neighbouring buildings, features a grand external staircase (photo at top), inspired by the one at the Pompidou Centre in Paris. The building’s “green” façade has staggered balcony-like planter boxes that are planted with trees and shrubs which will eventually all but conceal the cars inside. And the roof has a garden and play area for children.

The principle of an “active” parking house is that it be accessible and recreational, which is the function of the rooftop play area. The staircase, which runs the whole length of the façade, “invites people to ascend,” while a frieze along the stairway tells the story of the area in a graphical, abstract way.

Multi-use parking in Bordeaux, France
Designed by London architects Brisac-Gonzales, this Bordeaux parking house has shops on the street level and housing on the roof. They wanted to eliminate “dead zones” associated with conventional parking places.

The Copenhagen parking structure is but the latest in a still-short line of such experiments. A London architecture firm, Brisac Gonzales, has designed a novel parking garage for the city of Bordeaux, France, with shops on the ground floor and housing on the roof. The 450 cars it can hold will sit on several levels in between. The rooftop housing, consisting of nineteen apartments of varying sizes, will be built around a traditional central courtyard and surrounded by a communal garden.

The typical single-use parking garage becomes an “activity dead zone” in the after hours, say the architects. Their concept and design will help to eliminate that problem by introducing different activities after hours.

Taking parking to the next level in Miami

One of the earliest of the new multi-purpose, architect-designed parking structures was built in Miami in 2010. Herzog & de Meuron’s Miami parking building—they are the architects behind the famous Peking Olympic stadium and the Tate Modern in London—also has shops on the ground floor and living space on top. The building also has a grand central staircase filled with public art. The building’s owner, Robert Wnnett, said he wanted to “look at what a parking garage is and then (let’s) twist every notion about it.” The typical parking garage is a “big concrete box” that’s not used for anything else. “I had the opportunity here to change people’s perception of what parking is.” His aim was to make the parking garage into a social gathering place, somewhere that people would want to spend time in. “To want to go to a parking garage, versus wanting to exit as fast as possible, becomes a new paradigm.”

Watch a video about the Miami car park.

eleven eleven | Elizabeth Priore from Focus Forward Films on Vimeo.

Auberge on the Park-Tridel


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