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Parking Professional: How UC San Diego is Leveraging Parking to Enhance the Campus Experience

With enrollments on the rise and increasingly savvy students looking to get more out of their college experience, more and more Universities are seeking ways to enhance their campus environment to provide integrated, cutting edge experiences that go beyond the classroom. The University of California (UC), San Diego is one such institution. Their mission: to promote living, learning and interaction while advancing the University’s sustainability goals and showcasing the unique qualities of the campus. And parking plays a significant role in their solution.

Image of Parking Professional: How UC San Diego is Leveraging Parking to Enhance the Campus Experience Renderings courtesy of Gensler

One of the top 15 research universities in the world, UC San Diego has grown to a population of over 33,000 students, a number expected to increase to 40,000 in the next five years. After identifying a need for more parking to support future growth in the prestigious school of medicine neighborhood, the University found an opportunity to create something that goes far beyond the number of stalls and gross square footage associated with a parking structure.  The Osler Parking Structure will serve as a new gateway to the University by enhancing connectivity to the surrounding campus.

Innovative Design

When presented with the opportunity to compete for the project, the design-build team of Swinerton Builders; Watry Design, Inc.; and Gensler made it their goal to create an innovative design that not only addresses the functional needs of the University, but also integrates into the surrounding campus and blends with the local landscape.  The site for the parking structure is located at the front door to the campus, making it the first and last building visited on campus for many people. To create something that would set the tone for the campus experience, the team examined the site holistically rather than just focusing on the parking structure.

The project’s design includes an innovative architectural façade that seamlessly integrates the structure with anexisting historic eucalyptus grove, maximizes efficiency going above and beyond the original program’s stall count and reimagines and relocates the existing campus Visitor’s Center. The new Visitor’s Center will address the modern needs of the campus and create a more welcoming entrance to the University.

Image for Parking Professional: How UC San Diego is Leveraging Parking to Enhance the Campus Experience

To further enhance the user experience, the design of the parking structure incorporates lobby portals that announce visitors’ arrival through glass-backed elevator towers and projecting canopies; a new pedestrian plaza provides a welcoming front porch. To help blend the parking structure into the surrounding campus, the design-build team took advantage of the terrain, which is in a natural depression.  By nestling the parking structure down into it, a five level garage appears to be a two story building when approaching the parking structure from important vantage points along Gilman Drive and Osler Street - main entry roads into the campus. This minimizes massing and keeps it in line with the context, massing and proportion of the surrounding buildings.

Blending In

Shaped by its naturalistic, rustic character on the edges to a more highly designed discrete character within the campus neighborhood, UC San Diego is closely knitted into its landscape. The Osler Parking Structure site mediates between these rustic and discrete conditions by responding to each orientation individually. The Western and Southern facades dissolve the bulk of the building into the eucalyptus grove along Gilman Drive through the use of a multilayered facade system that captures and transforms the shadows of the adjacent trees onto a modulated, curving concrete mass. Over that, a panel system comprised of angled, perforated metal planks provides an additional level of abstraction, physically screening the structure. The northern and eastern faces of the building present a refined and more formal and orderly character to respond to the discrete characteristics of the school of medicine.

The site location allowed the design team to do more than just heighten the aesthetic appeal. The sloping grade enables vehicular entries on both the second and third levels, which helps break up congestion and improve circulation.  A parking guidance system that counts individual parking spaces and lets drivers know if the structure is full will enhance vehicular circulation. Since users will not be entering on the ground level, providing accurate, real time parking information as users enter the structure will help guide them to a parking place, reducing idling and circulation times.  When visitors exit their cars, they will find the main pedestrian exit located on the fourth level, where a bridge guides users from the structure towards Library Walk - a main pedestrian thoroughfare leading to the rest of the campus. An additional pedestrian bridge connects the parking structure to the visitors center.

Image of Parking Professional: How UC San Diego is Leveraging Parking to Enhance the Campus Experience

Because the structure is partially subterranean, the design team went to great lengths to provide natural light and ventilation. A retaining wall was pushed back to allow as much light into the structure as possible. Using moment frame construction instead of shearwalls as the seismic resisting system provides for an open and airy building that brings in light and provides views to the exterior. The light wells widen in the direction pedestrians need to flow, providing intuitive wayfinding as people walk towards the light and allowing for access to daylight deep within the structure. Open lobbies with stairs and elevators exposed to the outside provide safety and security throughout the building.

Another goal of the Osler Parking Structure is sustainability. UC San Diego pursues LEED Silver equivalency for every project on its campus. Although stand-alone parking structures are not eligible for LEED, the University is pursuing USGBC Parksmart Silver-equivalent design goals. Sustainable elements of the facility will include bicycle parking, water efficient landscaping and high quality LED lighting design with motion sensors and photocells to save energy.

The end result is going to be far more than just a parking structure that houses cars. It will create a new front door for the entire UCSD campus. 

About the Author

Matt Davis has been creating parking solutions for over 20 years. He has worked on over 125 parking projects and is a certified Parksmart Advisor. In addition to delivering projects to satisfied clients, Matt’s projects, such as the Tustin Metrolink Station Parking Structure and UC San Diego Osler Parking Structure and Visitor's Center, have received recognition from the International Parking Institute and other associations. An active participant in the International Parking & Mobility Institute and the Pacific Intermountain Parking & Transportation Association, Matt has penned and spoken on a number of industry topics, such as Healthcare Parking as the First Line of Customer Service, Green Parking, Transit Parking Best Practices, the Future of Parking, Protecting Your Parking Investment and Right Sizing Parking.

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