Real Estate Developers Begin to Future-Proof the Parking Garage

The Brief: 

  • According to the WSJ, Developers are starting to future-proof parking garages that may be obsolete in the coming years. With autonomous vehicles becoming an inevitability, garages must be designed to be used for cars now and repurposed for other things later. 
  • Developers are building master-planned projects in cities like Toronto, Los Angeles, Oslo, San Francisco and Boston with features like curbside drop-off areas for passengers and e-commerce deliveries. These will replace traditional parking lanes.
  • Developers in high-density areas are looking to existing parking infrastructure for conversion projects, with an added benefit of being able to label these "sustainable" projects because they conserve materials. 

The first multi-level parking garage was built in 1918 in Chicago, and as of 2012, there are nearly 13,000 parking garages across the United States. About 500 million parking spaces exist in the United States (the US population is around 326 million people). Parking infrastructure (garages and parking lots) covers an estimated 3,590 square miles, an area larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined.

"Garage tech" startups have served this sector with little fanfare, making parking more efficient, enhancing security, and managing the IT side of these parking businesses. Now, autonomous vehicles are forcing developers of parking garages to future-proof these structures from the outset of their construction.

Real estate developers are building new parking garages to be easily converted into office spaces. For a recent project in Cincinnati, the architecture and design firm Gensler designed a corporate headquarters with three floors of above ground parking that can later be converted into office. The design of the offices, pictured below, clearly maintains some of the architectural elements you might recognize from a parking garage, like the high ceilings and concrete mushroom columns. 



Converting existing garages can come with a unique set of problems. These structures are often not ideal for residential conversions because they are deep structures with much of the building lacking access to natural light. They are also expensive to convert because the high ceilings required for a parking garage mean less space in the building envelope for offices or residential units. Also, many parking garages were built on an incline, so that drains could carry water easily from the building, and large ramps throughout the building make those areas uninhabitable. 

Future proofing a garage is also a tricky process. Developers have to think about reinforcing the floors to accommodate the load of cars, and they have to think about separating columns and building narrow columns that will one day be acceptable to a residential tenant or office worker. Instead of ramps, some developers are solving the problem of moving cars with elevators or with removable steel ramps. 

Gensler Turns Old Parking Lot Into a Mixed-Use Development in Cincinnati

Gensler Turns Old Parking Lot Into a Mixed-Use Development in Cincinnati

These solutions are not always economical from a developer's perspective, but cities are stepping in to provide incentives for builders to consider the future. According to Wired: 

Cities are finding ways to incentivize smart construction. There’s toying with parking minimums (an excellent addition to any suite of pro-affordable housing policies). There’s the hammer of regulation—some cities already require those building new parking garages to create a ground floor that can be used for a non-parking use. There’s also the tax code. To incentivize a retrofit, a city might create a “future use” tax credit, or give credits to developments in neighborhoods where it plans to build more transit down the line.

How Architects Are Building Garages of the Future 

  • AvalonBay Communities in Los Angeles is developing a parking garage and imagining portions of the two levels of underground parking being converted to a gym, a theater and perhaps other recreational uses. They are also placing elevators and stairs in the middle of the structure, the way they are in offices. Finally, they are putting knock-out panels on the ceiling and floors to create future light wells.

  • Rick Caruso, the owner of the Grove and other upscale shopping centers, is working with Google's Intersection to prepare for the arrival of self-driving cars. Intersection is developing technology that integrates beams, sensors, license-plate recognition and phone apps that can potentially improve the shopping experience. Caruso predicts he will start converting his parking garages into mixed-use developments by 2025. 

  • For the immediate years ahead during which people will be transitioning to autonomous cars, Gensler is looking at ways to free up green space in housing developments by replacing driveways with common storage areas for vehicles. 

  • Reebok and Gensler have been studying how to repurpose gasoline stations in the future when driverless vehicles will visit remote charging stations instead. One idea they have come up with is fitness centers that include playgrounds, workout areas and fresh food stores. Stations would be more about "recharging human beings" than about recharging cars.  

  • Kohn Pedersen is designing a complex in Shenzhen in China with an elevated loop that could be dedicated to autonomous vehicles and underground parking areas that could be converted into retail space or other uses.

  • San Francisco Giants baseball team is looking down the driverless road with architecture firm Perkins + Will in their planning for Mission Rock, a 27-acre project south of AT&T Park. Planners are designing streets and buildings that can adapt to declining parking demand and the growing need for better curbside pickups and drop-offs of passengers and packages. Apartment buildings are being designed with more space—including cold storage—for package deliveries from and other e-commerce businesses.

By Charles LaCalle, Dreamit UrbanTech

Watch a video of a NYC Garage Conversion Project

Watch a video of a NYC Garage Conversion Project

Charles LaCalleurbantech, trends