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6 Ways Parking Can Deliver the Unexpected

Far too often, parking is left as a separate grey canvas versus a well-thought out, integral component that enhances the building or area it supports. However, parking can provide a number of unique opportunities to surprise, delight and elevate in unexpected ways. From artistic statements to creative interactions to embracing its surroundings, the possibilities are endless and the sky is the limit – literally, in some cases. 

Let’s look at six ways parking can deliver on the unexpected, and how various owners have capitalized on opportunities to go that extra mile.

Image of 6 Ways Parking Can Deliver the Unexpected An accessible bridge to the Gateway Parking Complex offers UNR students a connection to downtown Reno.

1. Discover New Pathways

Parking structures serve as a gateway to other destinations. As we rethink our urban spaces and look for more effective ways to connect people with their surroundings, parking plays a significant role in the solution. Downtowns adopting “park once” approaches to public parking have an opportunity to create meaningful pathways to multiple destinations. In the City of Palo Alto, the newest public parking structure on California Avenue serves both the local business district and the new Public Safety Building. To cater to both destinations, a grand staircase guides users to a pedestrian-friendly streetscape with planter boxes and benches.

In addition to the excellent views, the University of Nevada, Reno’s Gateway Parking Complex creates a pathway that previously didn’t exist: a connection to downtown. Students are now able to travel across an accessible pedestrian bridge that provides safe passage over a busy street and navigates elevation changes between the main campus and the downtown area via the stair and elevator cores.

Private developers are also working with municipalities to provide more public parking, in some cases joining forces to provide access to a public amenity. In the city of Burlingame, new development is transforming underutilized waterfront at the heart of the San Francisco Bay. However, this area is also home to the Bay Trail, a valuable public amenity. Therefore, developments such as Peninsula Crossing are working with the City to not only enhance the Bay Trail, but also provide public parking within the planned parking structures to ensure greater accessibility.

2. Experience Local Culture

Public art presents an opportunity for communities to transform parking structures from the utilitarian to an expression of place. It is an opportunity to celebrate a location’s identity or a university’s school spirit, perhaps spotlight a local artist or simply use the façade of a parking structure as a canvas to inspire.  

Local culture was forefront of mind for the cities along the LA Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension constructed through Arcadia, Monrovia, Irwindale and Azusa. Each city used public art to express its unique history at their respective station and parking structure, effectively introducing themselves to  visitors at the moment of both their arrival and departure. Phase 2B of the Gold Line extension, now under construction, will also feature public art in the same vein.

Similarly, the LA Plaza Village is located mere steps away from the birthplace of Los Angeles, the historic El Pueblo neighborhood. To celebrate this, four renowned Mexican American artists were selected to create a “mural corridor” through the project that celebrates the Latino history of the area. One of the four murals adorns the entrance to the parking structure.

Parking can also be home to creative whimsey. The San Antonio Zoo builds anticipation and excitement through depictions of zoo animals on the façade of a parking structure visible from a prominent highway. A plaza outside the San Mateo County Government Center Parking Structure features an art installation of 1,000 hubcaps.

Slideshow image for 6 Ways Parking Can Deliver the Unexpected

Artist Cha-Rie Tang created ceramic tiles molded from existing tile at the historic Santa Fe Depot next door as part of the public art installation at the LA Metro Monrovia Station.

Slideshow image for 6 Ways Parking Can Deliver the Unexpected

Artist Miguel Angel Reyes designed the LA Plaza parking structure mural to illustrate the evolution of a family across three generations.

Slideshow image for 6 Ways Parking Can Deliver the Unexpected

Animal artwork decorates the facade of a parking garage at the San Antonio Zoo.

Slideshow image for 6 Ways Parking Can Deliver the Unexpected

For the San Mateo County Government Center Parking Structure, local artist Gordon Huether created a public art piece consisting of 1,000 hubcaps.

3. Find Your Way

Clear and accurate signage is a critical part of the user experience, both as a driver and as a pedestrian. But signage that makes a statement can go above and beyond simply helping users find their way. The San Antonio Zoo brought their animal art-themed façade into the parking structure in the form of signage: silhouettes of various animals help users remember where they parked.

Image of 6 Ways Parking Can Deliver the Unexpected Creative details and bold colors enhance wayfinding at the Phoenix Biomedical Campus parking garage.

In the Phoenix Biomedical Campus parking garage, bold colors that serve as wayfinding devices are combined with miniature car cutouts to accent level signage throughout the structure. These creative accents go a long way towards making the user feel welcome.

The city of Santa Clarita took a similar approach in the Old Town Newhall parking structure. As the structure was part of an overall plan to revitalize a dynamic arts and entertainment district, signage in the structure takes on the look and feel of signage used throughout the district.

By extending that identity into the parking structure, it becomes part of the destination rather than a disconnected piece.

4. Turn It Up

While we expect visual cues from parking structures, from signage and parking guidance to art and architecture, it’s not often that parking engages users through sound. However that’s exactly what you’ll find when you visit Stanford University Medical Center. Pedestrians entering and exiting Parking Garage #4 pass through an elevator and stair tower that provides access to the subterranean structure. As they enter the glass-windowed building, they might hear something unexpected: the ping of a tennis ball. The churn of a locomotive. The song of a bird.

What do these sounds have in common? They are all connected to images etched onto the glass panels, creating a playful and wholly unexpected interaction between the building and the visitor. Given the stress that often accompanies trips to hospitals and medical centers, this encounter provides a unique opportunity to spark a smile where you might least expect it.

Image of 6 Ways Parking Can Deliver the Unexpected The Cultural Arts District Parking Structure in San Luis Obispo will feature a treasure trove of architectural details.

5. Delve into the Details

Parking structures can provide an unexpected opportunity to express identity, be it an urban downtown, a mixed-use destination or a corporate campus. San Luis Obispo, California is taking advantage of this opportunity with the upcoming Cultural Arts District parking structure. The structure’s prominent location adjacent to the mission, several museums and the future Repertory Theatre meant it needed to complement the Mission Revival style architecture of its surroundings while making its own statement. The garage, now under construction, will feature a copper dome, terra cotta tiles, elegant architectural detailing and a stained glass mosaic.

Curious and observant users are also rewarded when parking in the subterranean structure at Trinity Place in San Francisco. A centerpiece of this multifamily development is a nine-story, 92-foot tall statue of Venus, designed by Denver artist Lawrence Argent, sited atop the parking structure podium in a public plaza. Savvy users of the parking structure may notice a unique "Easter" egg when they park - the unicode characters for "female" are stamped in the concrete roof of the structure just below the statue's location.

Image of 6 Ways Parking Can Deliver the Unexpected The Gateway Parking Complex at University of Nevada, Reno, offers excellent views of downtown.

6. Enjoy the View

Have you ever watched a fireworks show from the top of a parking garage? Spotted a scenic vista that you might have otherwise missed? Parking structures frequently offer unique views of the surrounding area. Recognizing this, the City of San Luis Obispo took an opportunity to do even more with the Cultural Arts District Parking Structure mentioned above. As the structure’s location will offer excellent views of the Bishop and Cerro San Luis Peaks, the rooftop is being designed to accommodate special events.

Those who love to watch airplanes coming and going have the perfect place to do it at LAX: the Economy Parking Structure. Located just under the flight path for the north runways, the roof of parking garage is the perfect place for plane spotting.

Are you looking for a view of downtown Reno lit up in neon? The Gateway Parking Structure at the University of Nevada, Reno offers spectacular views of downtown.

Creating moments of unexpected delight in parking structures can range from elaborate design elements to simple and cost-effective accents that can be added to new or existing facilities. The key is thinking outside of the box and looking for opportunities where we aren’t used to finding them. Big or small, they can go a long way towards forging a connection with the user and creating a positive impression. When has parking gone above and beyond for you?

About the Author

Gordon has been practicing architecture for over 20 years and has a proven track record in successfully delivering complex projects from 3,000 to 1,000,000 square feet. His experience includes all phases of design, from Preliminary Design through Construction Documents for projects such as the VTA Milpitas and Berryessa parking structures. 

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