Flashy and fabulous aren’t usually words chosen to describe parking garages—but for the new array of architect-designed structures in Miami Beach, FL, the description seems apt. From sinuous curves and perforated façades to fluffy garages covered in foliage, this city’s structures are helping to redefine the possibilities of a traditionally utilitarian form.
The start of the architectural parking trend is often attributed to the firm Arquitectonica, who in 1995 created a six-story garage padded in greenery atop a historic building. Affectionately nicknamed the “Chia Pet” and located in the city’s Art Deco district, the project set the tone for Miami Beach’s new parking garages.
Since then, some 10 parking structures have been completed or are in various stages of design, and there’s now a perfect storm of parking garage creation. “What’s happening now is similar to what happened in the Art Deco period, when the city developed a collaborative of architects who played off each other’s designs,” assistant director of the Miami Beach planning department William Cary has said.
There’s the much-lauded Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron’s sleek concrete structure, stunning in its simplicity and open plan, with delicate ribbons and columns wrapping together thin platforms. Perkins + Will created a streamlined modern glass and steel garage as part of the new city hall, Enrique Norten of Ten Arquitectos designed a perforated white façade through which shadows and light interplay for Park@420, and Frank Gehry made a steel-mesh garage illuminated by LED lights at night for the New World Center symphony hall. Arquitectonica has another dynamic garage design at Purdy Avenue, and OMA (architect Rem Koolhaas’s firm) is planning Faena Park, a futuristic automated garage that will fit into a larger development. There’s even an automated parking garage at 1826 Collins Avenue designed by ADD Inc, paneled in glowing blue glass.
Perhaps most eagerly anticipated, however, is London-based architect Zaha Hadid’s proposal that would seamlessly integrate a breathtaking sculptural object-cum-car park into the urban landscape. “Parking structures are often seen simply as merely a practical requirement within an urban setting,” says Hadid. “Through considered design, however, the parking structure can become an inviting feature… taking an ordinary structure and turning it into something unexpected.”
Parking garages as architectural icons? It’s a notion that’s fast becoming reality in Miami Beach, where eccentric zoning codes and a history of architectural adventurism allow for more innovative approaches to parking structures. Indeed, former city manager Jorge Gonzalez estimates that these garages increased tourism by 20 percent in 2011 to 2012, and he’s said that “Each of these facilities is redefining what a parking structure should look like, and each one is pushing the next. That translates into architectural tourism.”
Though some might argue that these new structures simply glorify an established American obsession with cars, there’s no denying their aesthetic appeal, especially in contrast to the typical grim façade of most garages. As Hadid says, her garage proposal “suits its purpose, yet provides an experience and even a degree of fun for the user.” Whether or not they’re always welcome, it’s a reality that parking structures are necessary in modern cities; making them into aesthetic icons, on par with other world-class structures, seems a welcome next step in contemporary design.