As civilization advances over time, architecture evolves with it. Much like residential and commercial buildings, the aesthetic evolution of parking structures has indicated shifting human needs and desires.
For instance, a utilitarian style of architecture in the 1960s dictated the choice of natural concrete in establishments. Parking garages in cities reflect this functional approach. It is only with the relatively recent introduction of technology that it has become possible to analyze material and form, thus enabling a creative and design-oriented approach to erecting urban structures.
Early parking structures
Parking lots first emerged in the early 1900s, not too long after the first automobile was created in 1885. In 1918, the first multi-storey garage was built; it was only with a rise in the production of automobiles that the need to have proper parking spaces arose. Early parking garages had a solely utilitarian value – they were meant to function as spaces for ‘storing’ cars with not enough attention devoted to the aesthetic facet. In that sense, early parking garages were looked at as functional ‘accessory structures’ for cars.
The evolution of parking design
Photo by Adrian Trinkaus
Over the last couple of decades, the focus has shifted from storage to safety. This has informed design aspects that center around improving safety – better lighting, increased visibility, glass-backed elevators, well-lit stairwells, etc. From a purely functional outlook, aesthetic considerations such as the façade are gaining importance. While function still remains critical to the success of the architecture and the purpose, the value of the façade is now being recognized, and with good reason. The façade can often make or break a building.
Because it now matters what a parking space looks like, the garage design process involves advanced visual depictions, physical models, 3-D models, etc. To serve the unique needs of high-rise buildings, train stations, and shopping centers, the architecture of parking is paid close attention to. LED lighting, metal façades, and art installations are added to enhance the aesthetic appeal of the space to potential customers.
Mix use buildings are further dictating design considerations since it affects not just the people who enter them but also visitors and the neighborhood. Retail activities are often carried out to serve the related needs of the parking structure. Sustainability concerns are now influencing design. In the US, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system calls for structures to follow a higher environmental and energy efficiency standard.
Today, parking lots are no longer seen as merely parking spaces. Environment-friendly and well-planned, they perform multiple functions ranging from commercial and transit functions. In many countries like the US, parking lots are also serving as hotbeds of collective social action.
Parking garages in the future
Photo by Samuel Zeller
In the future, technology will affect design as new materials transform the look of garages. This could mean a complete aesthetic overhaul as they house electric vehicle (EV) charging stations, automated payment kiosks, etc.
Sustainable elements will continue to increase in adoption as well as a design focus on security measures for patrons. Designers will move away from passive measures such as visibility and signage to more active measures such as surveillance technology. In a bid to draw crowds into the facility, retail activities within and around the facility will also crop up. We may well be nearing a future where parking garages become an economic driver with shops on every floor and spaces for entertainment, leisure, and commercial use. In this context, the design will assume even greater importance as a strategic component of space optimization.
With a massive rise in the number of cars on the road, researchers, architects, engineers, and policymakers are envisaging new design and planning strategies. The underlying goal will be to come up with parking solutions that accommodate all vehicles and decongest public spaces at the same time. As cities establish more mixed-use structures, plain façades will become a thing of the past as garages become multi-functional, multi-dimensional destinations to park in.