The way people get around is undergoing a revolutionâthree revolutions, in fact: electrification, automation, and shared mobility. One of the far-reaching implications of this coming change is that a staid, stolid, and largely unloved building type, the multilevel parking garage, will require a radical rethink.
By 2040, more than half of the miles traveled in the U.S. could occur in shared autonomous vehicles (AVs), which would rarely need to park, according to a 2016 study by Deloitte, a financial and risk-management consultant. Dense urban areas in particularâlikely to be well served by public transit, AV fleets, ride-sharing, and other transportation optionsâcan expect to see demand for parking plummet while the need for new kinds of spaces, such as pickup and drop-off zones, electric vehicle (EV) charging stations, and AV hubs, emerges. The question for architects, says Amy Korte, a principal with Boston-based Arrowstreet, âis how quickly can we, as design professionals, run through the possible scenarios to help cities and municipalities plan for them?â
Prominent among these scenarios is the potential blight of surplus parking structures. âThe prediction that garages arenât going to exist anymore isnât quite accurate,â says Korte. Some may transform into docking hubs where AVs can be charged, cleaned, and serviced. City planners typically advocate for locating these stations on the outskirts of the city. However, Korte says entrepreneurs exploring the business model want such garages located centrally. That way, travel time while empty is minimized, and the vehicles are able to return more quickly for servicing.
For garages that donât find new life as transport hubs, the municipalities that are often the owners of these hulking, low-ceilinged, slope-floored structures may be hard-pressed to know what to do with them. Peckham Levels, a multistory, split-level, early 1980s garage located in a bustling area in southeast London, offers one promising example.
Winner of a 2018 New London Award for best âmeanwhileâ project (one intended for interim use, in this case 15 years, pending development of a long-term plan), âPeckham Levels has taken a disused carpark that, for decades, was a site of antisocial behavior and made it a popular town-center venue,â says Paul OâBrien, an associate at London-based Carl Turner Architects (CTA), designers of the project.
The transformation of 95,000 square feet of the garageâs midlevels (the upper levels are leased seasonally as a bar and patio, while the ground floor is a multiscreen cinema), completed in 2017, provides the neighborhood with much-needed community space and affordable workplaces. Public program elements include a play area, event and gallery space, food and drink outlets, and a yoga studio and hair salon, while the workspaces include various sizes of customizable shells, with shared service areas, that have enabled local artists, makers, and entrepreneurs to create their own jobs.
The design brings a light touch to the conversion. âThere was no point trying to cover everything up and make it feel as though you werenât in a carpark anymore,â says OâBrien. âThat was the charm of it.â The approach also suited the budget, about $42 per square foot. Major interventions are limited to enclosing the open-sided building, with new windows and insulation, and installing mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems. Concrete structure and services are exposed overhead. Parking spaces are still marked on the floors. Partitions of oriented strand board on wood studs separate the perimeter workspaces, and translucent polycarbonate panels admit daylight to the former drive aisles, which are now corridors.
The main difficulty of converting the garage revolved around the low ceiling height (7Âœ feet to the underside of beams) and floors sloped to drain. Locating partitions beneath beams, a