Can Great Design Redeem the Parking Garage?


Image © Nelson Garrido and MBEACH1, LLLP

Parking garages are generally considered to be a necessary evil: necessary because everyone drives; evil because they are usually drab, ugly concrete structures that take up valuable urban space. Yet in recent years, architects and designers have been working to counter this view, by adding solar panels, giving preference to hybrid cars, and gunning for LEED certification. So far, these efforts have failed to impress. Lloyd Alter has what seems to be the final word, in a review of "green" parking garages:

But you can only make so many rationalizations before admitting that anything that makes it easier and more convenient to drive is going to lead to more carbon emissions and is ultimately counterproductive.

But parking garages aren't ready to give up without a fight. And in Miami (a green city, if you know where to go), the Swiss architecture firm Herzog and de Meuron has laid down the gauntlet. Herzog and de Meuron's past work includes the National Stadium at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, better known as "Bird's Nest", London's Tate Modern, and a spectacular vertical garden at Madrid's CaixaForum museum.

It's hard to deny that the new parking garage, 1111 Lincoln Road (named for its address), is a marvel of architecture and design. It is wide open, without exterior walls, and the cables that keep cars from crashing to the street are so thin, they're invisible from a yard away. One of the garage's levels is 34 feet high (as opposed to the conventional eight), and the concrete slabs that support each level, all shaped differently, are far from drab. Just about everything you think of when "parking garage" comes to mind- pipes, railings, sprinkler systems- is cleverly tucked away. Everything, that is, except for the cars, which are proudly displayed, visible from the street.

Reviewing the building in last week's New Yorker, Paul Goldberger writes:

Herzog and de Meuron have a history of rethinking conventional archetypes and of taking on unlikely projects just to see where they will lead, and 1111 Lincoln Road, the parking structure they have just built in Miami Beach, is one of the most compelling things they have done in years. Parking garages fill block after block of our cities, and Herzog and de Meuron clearly relished the challenge of showing that they don't have to be a blight.

1111 Lincoln Road goes more for glamor than green- the building includes ground level retail space (reserved for a "mix of exlcusive, internationally diverse retailers"), as well as a penthouse (to be occupied by the project's developer, Robert Wennett). It will be joined (unnecessarily) by bridges to neighboring buildings (mostly more retail).

Goldberger concludes:

It's a thoroughly exuberant piece of architecture that takes its inspiration from the idea that there is genuine worth in trying to invite cars into buildings instead of wishing them away. The Lincoln Road project takes sixties architecture and the automobile, unpleasant facts of life in so many places, and makes something new of them.

But that "something new" isn't any less pleasant, and there are other ways to get rid of cars than "wishing." The new garage is nice to look at and innovative in a lot of ways, but it does nothing to tackle the problems of automobile-caused congestion. Instead, it adds a sheen of glamor to city driving. Would that Hezog and de Meuron take on a public transportation project- they could really do some good.

More on "green" parking garages:
LEED or Not, Parking Garages Are Not Green
Three Great Eco Parking Lots
Give a Cold Shoulder to Heated Garages

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