National Building Museum
According to a report on NPR, population worldwide is moving to cities. This is not a new trend; cities have always been centers of opportunity, but now that population threatens to overwhelm capacity it is more important than ever to build them right.
While some countries are building new cities from scratch, places that will “win” are those that already have infrastructure and are making best use of it. As Harriet Tregoning, D.C.’s planning chief pointed out at a panel discussion at the National Building Museum, even in this recent recession, communities that did best were those that are “dense, mixed-use places.”
As part of the Washington metropolitan area, Montgomery County has long recognized that it faces a growing population, but only recently have we thought about new ways to handle that growth.
We’ve already made some good decisions that will serve us in the future. Setting aside the Agricultural Reserve as inviolable has left it to develop emerging value for local farming. Focusing growth at Metro stations has stanched sprawl, created job and housing choices, and built the local economy.
Current planning efforts–Bus Rapid Transit, the Purple Line, the Corridor Cities Transitway, community-specific design guidelines, urban park standards, even moving our record keeping to computers–will help County residents get where they want to go, define their communities, and get the information they need.
These are not greenfield planning efforts, but a thrifty use of infrastructure, information, and systems we already have. It’s an approach other cities are using as well. In New York, the wildly successful High Line park is layered on top of an old elevated rail line, turning an eyesore into an asset. The Digital City initiative is using technology to deploy existing data in ways that improve New York’s functioning and communication with its residents.Â Cities around the world areÂ establishing bike share programs andÂ thereby creating a new transportation system.
It’s squeezing stuff in–local parks above ground, a corner of sidewalk turned over to a bike dock, threading new cable through existing channels–that ironically, doesn’t feel like constriction, but feels like opportunity.
Parking garages arenâ€™t always the most attractive members of built society. If a group of buildings got together for a social event, skyscrapers would be the leggy blonde at the center of attention while parking garages would play the overweight louse, disheveled and stinking of cheap cigars, that foils the attempts of potential suitors. (What, you donâ€™t think about buildings talking to one another?)
Yes, far too often parking garages are the ugly brutes ruining all the fun, occupying whole city blocks, deadening street life, and filling the air with noxious fumes. Itâ€™s hardly a coincidence that they are featured most prominently in movies where the threat of evil looms in every shadowy crevice.
Parking structures have experienced a bit of renewed attention recently with the release of Simon Henley’s The Architecture of Cars, the National Building Museum’sÂ House of Cars exhibit, and yes, even our own Claudia Kousoulas’ travels to Miami in search of The Coolest Parking Garage Ever.Â And while I personally prefer my parking garages as small as possible and underground, if youâ€™re going to build an above ground structure, there are certainly some better ways of going about it.Â Consider the following examples:
The Santa Monica Civic Center
The Santa Monica Civic Center garage is the nation’s first LEED certified parking garage. While I’ve already shared my opinions on the sustainable credentials of auto-centric buildings, suffice to say that this building does all it can to otherwise offset its burden on the environment. The garage, which also includes two floors of office space, is powered entirely by the rooftop photovoltaic panels and employs an energy efficient mechanical system to cut down on waste. Low-VOC paint is used throughout and parts of the facade treatment are made from recyclable materials.
The building’s neon glow is an attractive addition to the street a night. It stands out proudly, rather than employing ill-fitting mimicry of appearing “like a building” that exhibits all the awkwardness and discomfort of our stinking louse in a rented tuxedo.
Veranda Parking Garage
Sleek. Slender. Sculptural. In the words of Liz Lemon, “I want to go to there.” In fact, I’d be writing this entry from my iPhone – clearly this is a fantasy – while driving to the Veranda Garage if it weren’t in France. Sigh.
Of course, this image has all the trappings of architecture photography. Where are the people? Where’s the humanity?! That’s a fair complaint. It would be nice to see something with the potential of registering a pulse. However, like the Santa Monica garage, the ground floor is dedicated to commercial uses to provide a measure of pedestrian-friendliness.
Let’s just go ahead and say it, this won’t happen in Montgomery County. But that’s okay. It probably shouldn’t. The iconic Marina Towers benefit from a unique coalescence of the Chicago River, some pretty high profile neighbors (also, and here too), and a sense that if anywhere would combine a skyscraper and a parking garage , Chicago would probably be the place (one part New York, one part LA). In fact, Chicago is filled with skyscrapers designed with parking thick through their midsections. Rarely does this formula work for the benefit of architecture. But in this one instance, the right elements seem to come together.