The effort put into designing a parking lot will likely never be recognized in the same way as the work done to bring a sparkling skyscraper out of the ground. However, the structures that are present in most American cities serve a vital and practical need.
But basic parking is not so basic anymore, not least because municipalities and people who live near high traffic and congested areas insist that developers consider their projects in a way that encourages the use of public transport. or to camouflage them. so that they blend in as harmoniously as possible with the aesthetics of associated buildings and public gathering places.
Change is already underway
For example, Seattle has chosen to move development away from parking structures that overlook streets and sidewalks as well as office buildings, residential skyscrapers and hotels, according to Phil Greany, construction manager in Mortenson’s office. in Seattle.
Seattle is in the midst of a tech company-induced construction boom, and, according to Greany, these workers often want to live, work, and play in the same neighborhood, so cars and parking are a secondary concern. Amazon employees, for example, who live near company headquarters can walk to and from work instead of driving.
The city also heightened urban and pedestrian sensibility by encouraging developers to design with pedestrian access in mind and include features such as “parklets” where on-street parking would normally be located. Seattle encourages underground parking where possible, as well as a design that “camouflages” parking garages so they can blend in with the greenery that lines many streets, according to Greany.
On a related note, Al Carroll, executive vice president of the Southern California division of the McCarthy Building Companies, said he’s seeing increased use of parking “envelopes” for mid-rise multi-family residential buildings. . “The residential building wraps around the structure of the parking lot, hiding its exterior from view,” he said.
Carroll noted, however, that because the story-to-story height of each garage level should generally match the relatively lower story-to-story height of a typical multi-family building, the design is sometimes not as efficient as a detached house. common parking garage next to an office building or other commercial project.
However, some new trends in parking garage design – even mandates – are easier to implement than others.
Paul Commito, senior vice president of development at Brandywine Realty Trust, said city planners in Philadelphia, where the company built the city’s first raised park over a university area parking lot, prefer parking in basement.
The city wants its citizens to be less “dependent on parking” and requires developers of new parking structures to go through a special review process if they want to build a traditional aboveground facility, according to Commito.
“The only problem is that the urban environment makes the cost of using the basement with parking almost prohibitive,” he said.
Most owners, Carroll said, will try to keep the parking structure above grade when zoning and site conditions allow. “While integrating the underground parking into a mixed-use park above the [or] The installation of offices results in a much smaller building footprint requiring less land use, significantly increasing the cost of the underground parking component, which is already very expensive compared to above ground structures ” , did he declare.
According to Scott Desharnais, executive vice president of Moss Construction Management, soil type is another factor to consider when going underground with a parking lot. “With the new soil mixing technology, it has become more economically feasible to put underground parking. This has been especially important in dense areas where land is scarce,” he said.
Despite this, Desharnais said the deepest parking structures the company has seen are just two underground levels. “We could see basements lower in the future as soil mixing technology becomes more mainstream,” he said. “For now, on most large buildings that require a lot of parking, we will still normally see several stories above ground.”
Where sustainability comes into play
So how do you make these above ground concrete parking lots more durable and slightly easier to accept for forward thinking planners? Simply put, the developers are making them eco-friendly with things like electric car charging stations, green spaces, and solar power.
Commito said that due to the availability of a wide variety of transportation options in Philadelphia, the company’s Cira Center project, a mixed-use, transit-focused commercial project along the Schuylkill River, was able to transform the top of the complex’s parking lot into a park, as well as a stormwater management system and a green roof. The park opened about a year and a half ago and has “been shown to be well received,” Commito said.
Solar energy and electric charging stations go hand in hand in some of the car parks of the property development company DANAC. CJ Colavito, director of engineering for Standard Solar – which installed the solar panels on one of DANAC’s parking structures and parking lot – said solar is financially profitable for building owners, it doesn’t So it acts not so much in trying to make a parking garage look like better, but in economic sense.
Charging stations for electric cars, however, are another matter. “It’s a chicken and egg situation,” Colavito said. Employers may want to install them if they see their employees using them, but employees may not invest in an electric car until their employer installs a charging station in the parking lot. It’s not a money generator like solar power, he said, but rather a benefit to the public and tenants or workers in a building.
Cities and local governments also play a role in this, Colavito said, because green initiatives like solar power, storm water and charging stations sometimes come with large grants that justify their inclusion in a project. financially interesting.
What’s next for the design and construction of parking garages
So, what future for the parking lot?
“The trend we are seeing is that a greater proportion of the population is moving to cities [and] urban areas, ”Carroll said. This will force planners to take into account the increase in population and determine how these additional people will move through an increasingly dense area in the most efficient way possible.
“Public transit and driverless vehicles will certainly lead to some reduction in demand for structured parking,” he added, although driverless vehicle technology is still in the early stages of development.
Generation Y will also influence the demand for parking spaces. This demographic, Carroll said, doesn’t value car ownership as high as older generations, with many seeing it as a waste of time and resources. A significant portion would prefer to use public transportation or ride-sharing services, he said, allowing them to be social while commuting and leave the driving to someone else.
Some owners, he said, have anticipated the abandonment of parking garages and are considering designing parking structures with floor-to-floor heights and other design elements that will allow them to transform multi-family buildings, retail stores, offices and other types of mixed-use facilities – in case the demand for parking begins to drop.
Desharnais said his company has also seen the trend to reduce the number of stand-alone garages in favor of those that are integrated into a specific project. And with the help of car lifts, which allow two or three cars to be stacked in one space, the footprint of garages is also shrinking.
However, the most impacting change for the future of parking structures, Desharnais said, will come from cities and local governments. “Most municipalities still require a certain number of parking spaces for each residential unit,” he said. “In the future, if they relaxed this requirement, it could stimulate urban development and discourage people from driving.”