Zipcar Dispenser Parking Garage Prototype


The Zipcar Dispenser’s slender vertical design would make efficient use of underutilized commercial spaces—narrow plots between buildings—in downtown areas. The design allows seven vehicles to be stacked in the same footprint as just two parking spaces. Image courtesy of Moskow Linn Architects Inc.


The architects designed the garage to be self-serve: a Zipcar member would approach the garage and insert his/her membership card in a card reader. A translucent shroud would then move down to street level and protect the area where the vehicle would land. The car would be lowered, the shroud would be raised, and the Zipcar would be ready for use. Image courtesy of Moskow Linn Architects Inc.

Ads could be installed on the shroud—like an architectural billboard. Image courtesy of Moskow Linn Architects Inc.

Dwell characterized the Zipcar Dispenser design as a “marked improvement” over the candy dispenser that inspired it. Image courtesy of Moskow Linn Architects Inc.

Sketches for the Zipcar Dispenser. Image courtesy of Moskow Linn Architects Inc.


As cars become smarter, smaller, and more efficient, so too are some parking garages being created that are sleeker versions of their sprawling concrete counterparts. One of the most interesting of these newer designs is the Zipcar Dispenser by Moskow Linn Architects, which merges the utility of a car-share program with the economics of an advertising platform in an attractive parking structure. “We wanted to take something that’s considered unsightly and functional and turn it into beautiful architecture,” says Keith Moskow.

Cars take up a lot of room, and since they spend more time parked than driving, much land is needed to store them. Car-share programs like Zipcar, which now boasts over 750,000 members across the country, help minimize the total number of parked cars. But even with Zipcar, “their biggest difficulty was finding a place to put vehicles,” says Moskow, so his firm approached Zipcar with the proposal of creating an innovative space that could effectively store cars while also providing company branding within the structure itself.

Moskow started by envisioning a design that would fit into an underutilized commercial space, an area between buildings otherwise left empty because of its narrow dimensions.  The slightness of the imagined space created a vision for an automated vertical garage that could be “slotted in many places,” Moskow says, whose firm espouses its practice of compact urbanism in a book called Small Scale: Creative Solutions for Better City Living.

The finished design resembles what the firm describes as “a giant PEZ dispenser [that] doles out cars in lieu of candy.” Slender at only 10 feet wide, 36 feet deep, and just over 50 feet high, the steel structure is intended to hold seven cars. When a Zipcar member slots their card into a card reader, a standard, off-the-shelf movable stacker crane—“much like Home Depot scissor trucks,” explains Moskow—would lower a car down to street level. A polycarbonate transparent scrim encloses the structure, on which ads could be installed—like an architectural billboard. Easy, quick, and delightfully self-serve, the overall design evokes the basic nature of a vending machine combined with the whimsy of the candy dispenser.

Lauded for its imaginative form and thoughtful solution to a common urban problem, the design won the Boston Society of Architects Unbuilt Design Award. The $200,000 price tag to build one of these diminutive structures, however, ultimately stopped the design from moving beyond the prototype stage.

Though the initial design was created for cities, the idea could easily be extended to fit the suburbs. Imagine a walkable suburban neighborhood centered around a transit station, where a vertical automated parking garage could be slotted into a narrow space instead of dominating the landscape, or a bicycle storage system where commuters could park their two-wheeled transport while taking a bus or a train to work.

Most importantly, it is structures such as this that push the outdated envelope of parking garage design. With an array of new personal transportation options on the horizon—including autonomous cars, two-seater electric vehicles, personal mobility devices, and car-sharing programs—projects such as the Zipcar Dispenser help move transportation and mobility into a more sustainable and architecturally interesting future.