Civic Arches for Rockville Centre: Q&A with Architects Tim Love and Elizabeth Christoforetti


The flexible parking garage prototype extends the public realm and adds vitality to Rockville Centre. Image courtesy of Utile, Inc.

Tim Love, founding principal of Utile, Inc. Architecture + Planning, and Elizabeth Christoforetti, Senior Designer at Utile, designed the Civic Arches proposal for the ParkingPLUS Design Challenge. The Utile team designed a garage prototype with a ground floor of soaring, monumental, concrete arches, both inspiring and economical to construct. Their proposal illustrates three variations of a prototype design that, if built, would free up more than three and a half acres of land in the Village of Rockville Centre for small parks and plazas, while at the same time adding more than 400 parking spaces to the Village’s supply of commuter parking. We spoke about their design in December 2013.

Your design demonstrates how utilitarian structures can be beautiful. Why do you think that’s important? Are you reviving a lost art? 

Tim Love and Elizabeth Christoforetti: Yes, every structure should be beautiful no matter what the function. The design of utilitarian structures has as much impact on the quality of the built environment as museums and parks. If anything, it may have more of an impact because people might not expect it.


The Utile team drew inspiration for Civic Arches from the Viaduc des Arts in Paris. Image courtesy of La Citta Vita/Flickr under Creative Commons License

You designed a monumental arcade for the ground floor of your parking structure. As an architectural form, the arcade has a long history! What was your particular inspiration?

Love and Christoforetti: Two inspirations: the columns that hold up the tracks in Rockville Centre and the arches of bridge abutments. The arches under the Queensboro Bridge and the Viaduc des Arts in Paris were specific examples we studied. We also like the civic connotations of colonnades and arcades—think of the Stoa in Athens and the Roman forum!

Your firm recently organized a conference about innovations in parking structures. What are some of your favorite parking structures from around the globe?

Love and Christoforetti: Everyone’s current favorite is the Herzog and de Meuron-designed garage on Lincoln Road in Miami Beach. We recently visited (by car!) and it’s even better in person. Lincoln Road works partly because of the amazing sculptural form (created by selectively removing floor slabs) AND because there is both a restaurant, smaller stores, and almost souk-like little shops at the base. We also love some “pure” garages. The Parkhaus Zoo garage in Leipzig, Germany is one of our favorites because of the way the two circular car ramps at the end of each parking bay, clad in the same screen of dried bamboo poles as the long elevations, create beautiful turret-like sculptural forms.

Parking garages are “where the dead cats and candy wrappers go.” Put another way, a typical parking structure (e.g., a garage serving a single use like an office building) is empty most of the time. How does your proposal animate parking structures round-the-clock?

Love and Christoforetti: Importantly, we believe that good design can surmount the normal conflict between parking and an active pedestrian environment. The garages are designed for the non-parking life of the structure FIRST – but they are well-dimensioned for efficient parking stalls during peak periods. We think the ground level arcade spaces are ideal for inviting activities like markets and festivals. Lighting, color, and graphics are also important place-making strategies at the finer grain. While our proposal could only hint at these strategies, we would love to explore ways to incorporate a comprehensive public art and information graphic program—in the stairways and elevator cabs, as part of a wayfinding system, through creative lighting, and more.

How do you anticipate your design might change over time? How did you design the space to maximize flexibility?

Love and Christoforetti: There are two ways to address your question—as a question about the design process moving forward and in terms of the life of the structures themselves. We designed our garages as flexible prototypes, in anticipation that the final configuration and siting of the garages would be adjusted after a more detailed analysis of cost, financing, and management structure.


The three-bay prototype provides the maximum efficiency but requires a 200’-wide site. The narrower two-bay prototype fits within more constrained urban sites. Image courtesy of Utile, Inc.

More generally, we designed the garages as a flexible chassis. The structural bay dimensions and flat floor plates allow for retail and other active uses on the ground floor and apartments and office space next to and above the parking bays. Again, this flexibility was built in realizing that a final design would be different than our proposal for the ParkingPLUS design challenge. And this flexibility can be capitalized on now and in the future. In fact, we have designed the parking garage so that the entire structure could be repurposed as an office building and/or an apartment building.  Like the arched bridge abutments that we admire, of which many have been repurposed as retail shops, we want our structures to live a life beyond the initial use they were designed for.


The prototypical design allows for the entire structure to be repurposed as an office building and/or apartment building should demand for parking change 50 years from now. Image courtesy of Utile, Inc.

Your design includes a new public plaza, new open spaces, and better connections for pedestrians and bicyclists. It seems counterintuitive that new parking structures could allow for all this. Can you explain how your design achieves this? 

Love and Christoforetti: First of all, we consciously designed the ground plane so that the floor of our proposed new sidewalks and plazas are the same as the ground level of the garage. This continuity, together with the arches and tall ceiling height, mean that the garage is part of the civic realm. In addition, the arcades connect to the walkway under the tracks to make a pedestrian network. Our proposal also features prominently located and secure bicycle parking area in every garage—perhaps to inspire more people to bicycle to the Village center and train station.


The design is the centerpiece of a pedestrian and bicycle network that can reach well beyond downtown Rockville Centre. Image courtesy of Utile, Inc.

For owners of downtown businesses, what’s to gain from new parking structures?

Love and Christoforetti: A tourist attraction—and only partly kidding!  More pragmatically, a beautifully designed and artfully lit parking garage can draw customers to businesses within easy walking distance. A people-focused garage can be part of the total customer experience and can be a fundamental expression of the brand of Rockville Centre. Typically with garage design, there is a tradeoff between maximum parking capacity and an active street environment. We hope our proposal allows for the appropriate balance of both.

And how about for the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) and commuters?

Love and Christoforetti: Commuters and the LIRR will both benefit from a compelling and uplifting experience at the beginning and end of the commute! Again, utilitarian structures should be as inspiring as a museum.


Apartments on top of parking are designed to attract young professionals, empty-nesters, and retirees who want to live in a walkable downtown. Image courtesy of Utile, Inc.

Your proposal features new apartments as part of a parking garage. Whom do you envision moving in? How about you?

Love and Christoforetti: Our proposed apartments are designed for young professionals, empty-nesters, and retirees who want to live in a walkable downtown and have super-easy access to the train. To keep the price point low and encourage full use of the Village center as the residents’ “living room,” we recommend small well-planned apartments. And no, the apartments are not designed for us, but would be perfect for other people in our office and our parents. We both have two kids!

More about Civic Arches

See an overview of the design.

Find out more about the Design Proposal.

Watch a video of Tim Love unveiling the design.

More about ParkingPLUS

Find out about the potential economic benefits of the ParkingPLUS designs.

Read about how to finance parking garages, and why it pays to build them in downtown and train station areas.

Learn more about the ParkingPLUS design challenge.