Future-Proofing a Design: How to Recycle a Parking Garage

As COVID-19 is impacting the world, architects and builders are tasked with making spaces that can flex to accommodate changes in use, industry and population. Considering all the advancements in technology, this task is becoming easier.

During this season of change, we’ve been thinking about how architecture can be more adaptable to accommodate a myriad of needs and uses in the near and distant future. How might certain spaces, which now lack relevance due to the current state of the world, be creatively transformed to support new societal needs? For example, recently the New York City Council voted to convert street space into one million square feet of pedestrian walkway and 250 miles of dedicated bike lanes. The benefit of this plan seems to be two-fold, more green space and a nudge towards a cleaner, emission free city.  New York is not the only city rolling out plans to reduce reliance on cars, San Francisco, Boston, Los Angeles, Toronto, and as well as Chicago are all heading in this direction. 2030 visions and changes are rolling out rapidly.

Couple the overarching urban campaign to decrease the amount of cars on city streets with the steady and exponential emergence of alternate forms of transportation from ride shares to VTOLS (more in the not too distant future), and new unintended consequences emerge. For example, if people are driving less, what to do with parking space left unused or at a fraction of capacity?

These are the types of architectural design considerations that need to be tackled in the present day before NexGen cityscapes are a startling reality. This is why future proofing is such an important part of our DNA at Ware Malcomb. As the old adage goes, a stitch in time saves nine, the same goes for parking conversion forecasting and preparation for new use in the future. We plan ahead, with our clients, using sound design principles, creating adaptable architecture and maximizing space versatility for long-term real estate value – ultimately saving clients time and money down the road.

NexGen, future-proofed parking should take into account 2nd, 3rd and 4th generation space uses, and therefore needs to be highly versatile. For example, as the required number of parking stalls decreases with urban transport behavior changes, there should be a proactive design plan in place to seamlessly transform the garage space into a new use. This gives the owner flexibility and an increased floor area ratio when use is converted away from parking. Technologies such as automated transit, experiential retail, flex office and possible stem educational uses, as well as subterranean programmatic elements like urban farming, micro power grids, and maker spaces should also be taken into account for the upgradable adaptivity of parking spaces/garages/structures. With hospitals being overloaded, next gen medical is also something to be considered. The infrastructure needs of hospitals have been scaled down due to advancements in each of the many technologies and can be planned for accordingly.

Figure 2: Newer developing technologies like automated parking systems, self-driving cars, and VTOL’s will change the parking landscape. Create parking structures that are blended into the design, have flexible facade systems that can be easily change, and consider the re-use of the space over time as parking requirements lessen, makes for a design that can change with time. New building systems and space uses need to be considered so that replanning the building will still work with the surrounding areas.

Considering many larger scale projects often have a phased development schedule and may take up to two years to complete a particular phase, it is critical to identify future technology and space usage needs at present with the ownership team, in order to have a roadmap for execution and success. Future-proofed architecture will yield higher value, a greater capability for avoiding obsolescence and will be versatile enough in use to respond to shifting priorities and any challenges that the “new normal” may bring. Stay tuned for more…

Figure 3: The buildings look is very dependent on building use at the time. Buildings with long-term real estate value offer flexibility in how a building might change over time. Future-proofing a design goes beyond the lot line and considers adjacent uses and how those will change over time as technology alters their uses as well.

Christopher Polaski

Project Designer