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Old Posted Aug 23, 2019, 8:15 PM
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The Parking Garages of the Future

The Born Again Garage



Read More: https://www.governing.com/topics/tra...v-garages.html

Knightley’s Parking Garage opened for business in Wichita, Kan., on March 13, 1950, a shining example of mid-century auto-centric architecture. An announcement in The Wichita Eagle hailed the newest addition to downtown as “The Midwest’s Largest and Most Modern Parking Garage.” Open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, it charged 50 cents to park for the day, 75 cents for the evening and one dollar to leave a car overnight.

- America’s old parking behemoths are falling into disrepair. But some of them have a future. Now, times have changed some more. Recently rechristened “Broadway Autopark,” Knightley’s Garage today is home to 44 one-bedroom apartments, each about 700 square feet, with a covered terrace. The décor is mid-century modern. Colorful kitchen cabinets are made by a company that usually furnishes industrial sites. Exposed concrete ceilings, walls and floors plus a red four-story PARKING sign are a constant reminder of what this place used to be. Not that anyone is likely to forget.

- Knightley’s Garage opened when the car was king. By 1950, Americans owned one vehicle per household, doubling to two in the ensuing 25 years. Cities struggled to accommodate the proliferation of cars on grids designed for horses, streetcars and pedestrians. Surface parking lots and multilevel garages began to take up more and more of the urban landscape, changing the look and feel of cities. Today, mixed-use and pedestrian amenities are making a comeback in city centers, and residents can walk from home to work to entertainment. Many of them don’t need parking spaces at all.

- With its 1950s aesthetic intact, Knightley’s Garage is more than a kitschy throwback to the past. Wichita’s repurposed parking facility may actually be an indication of things to come. As personal auto ownership declines in urban downtowns, car-related urban infrastructure is increasingly underused. Some garages, like Knightley’s, are ripe for adaptive reuse. Others are being constructed from scratch in ways that will allow them to be repurposed down the road.

- Many cities, including Houston, have begun to lower or eliminate mandatory parking minimums. San Francisco recently did away with parking minimums citywide. Its planning department estimates that minimum parking requirements can add as much as $50,000 to the cost of an apartment. The National Parking Association (NPA), a trade group of lot operators, supports the relaxation of parking requirements for developers, saying that strict minimums not only add to construction costs but also lead to slower development and excess capacity.

- Whether it happens in 15 years or 50, a shift to autonomous vehicles would leave metro areas with an even greater surplus of parking space. Fewer cars would be sitting idle most of the day, since a fleet will theoretically be on the move most of the time. Less room would be needed for parking, since five self-driving cars will fit into space now occupied by four. That day may be somewhere in the distant future, but it is a future that the people who build and own parking lots, and the cities that house them, cannot afford to ignore.

- Converting an existing garage to other uses is not an easy thing to do. Mary Smith, a principal at Walker Consultants, a firm specializing in the design and restoration of parking facilities worldwide, points out that repurposing a multilevel garage to housing, office or retail space is more than a matter of adding walls and plumbing. Designing a structure to carry cars is not at all like designing for people and their possessions. Most parking structure footprints, Smith says, are “simply too big to convert to office. You won’t have enough windows in proportion to the space.”

- A typical parking garage is designed more like a bridge than like a building. Support columns are spaced far apart, which allows the floors to flex. “Parking structures are really bouncy,” Smith says. “Most people wouldn’t want to live on a floor that bounces all the time.” The floors in a garage are typically sloped, and ceiling heights are shorter than in residential construction. Retrofitting an existing garage requires additional strengthening of the structure and adding stairs and elevators -- and maybe hollowing out an atrium in the middle to bring in more light -- all of which significantly increases the cost.

- For that reason, a growing number of developers, architects and engineers have started building new garages with the capacity to be switched to other uses, if and when the need arises. Major projects of this kind in Denver, Houston and Los Angeles are already under construction or on the drawing board. Peter Merwin is a principal at the worldwide firm Gensler Architects and specializes in “retail-centric, mixed-use environments and walkable urbanism.” Speaking of a designed-for-the-future garage project he worked on in Houston, Gensler says that “we convinced the client that adding 20 percent more steel into the structure would be a minimal cost and allow maximum flexibility over time.”

- Counterintuitively, the loads for automobiles are actually less than the loads sustained when a floor is full of people and all of their possessions. “You’d think about a big heavy car,” he says. “But actually, you need to add more steel to your parking structure in order to retrofit it to other uses.” Merwin’s firm is currently working on a new parking garage in the Los Angeles Arts District. With level floors and 13-foot ceilings, the structure is being designed such that it could one day accommodate office space, retail, a gym and a theater. The building’s exterior can be clad in glass windows when the time comes, and there will still be space for 1,000 cars underground.


A repurposed parking garage in Wichita, Kan. (Milt Mounts/Essential Images Photography)

Broadway Autopark (Milt Mounts/Essential Images Photography)

Broadway Autopark (Milt Mounts/Essential Images Photography)

Inside Broadway Autopark (Milt Mounts/Essential Images Photography)

Inside Broadway Autopark (Milt Mounts/Essential Images Photography)

Parking stripes are still visible in a newly adapted space at Northwestern University. (Gensler/Garrett Rowland)

A Gensler Architects concept for future garage reuse. (Gensler)

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