Architect Graham Place describes how award-winning car park design is bringing ‘a moment of improved existence’ to city dwellers
Leading architect Graham Place has described the imaginative use of architectural façades as an increasingly important consideration in car park design.
The CEO of Leeds- and London-based Box Architects believes that as our city centres become less car-friendly, car-park design faces new and varied challenges.
He said: “City centres are becoming more hostile to cars, and car parks are being tarred with the same brush. A multi-storey car park is, by design, a structurally substantial mass of construction – but the intervention of a multi-storey car park does not have to be a negative experience.”
Happy and healthy places to be
Citing Lincoln Central Car Park, voted Best New Car Park at the 2019 British Car Parking Awards, and the award-winning Maple project at Victoria Gate car park in Leeds, Graham added: “Successful buildings are vibrant, happy and healthy places to be, and that applies just as much to car parks.
“For the people who use car parks, it is a fleeting experience – they arrive, park and may not return for hours. Nevertheless, multi-story car park design still offers us, as architects, the opportunity to bring a moment of improved existence.”
This ‘improved existence’, adds Graham, involves good lighting, clear wayfinding, and safe access and exit. However, for users and the wider community, it also means good ventilation in an exhaust-filled environment (while at the same time protecting users from wind and rain) and the prevention of light-spill pollution from vehicle headlights.
Graham believes the considered use of architectural façades can address these challenges but also enhance the user experience - “from providing an ever-changing dappled light across the surface of the space to framing a view as the users wait for the lift.”
Commercial and creative balance
Box Architects are committed to providing a client-centric service, achieved by a focus on commercial and creative balance. However, Graham says the firm never loses sight of the fact that every project has three clients. “Those who pay for it, those who use it, and those who pass it by.”
He added: “The biggest client group for a multi-storey car park is the group that has to live with the building on a daily basis, are overshadowed by the building, or view it from their homes or offices. But that doesn’t mean that a huge car park in the heart of a city can’t deliver a positive contribution to the urban realm.”
As well as Lincoln Central Car Park, the other nominees - Didcot Parkway Foxhall car park, The Music Box car park in Hayes, and Maple’s project at Stanley Street in Salford – were also judged to have made a significant contribution.
Car parks are cool
Graham also points to the Victoria Gate development, voted Coolest Car Park in the UK, and third-coolest in the world in a competition organised by Looking4.com. He said: “Victoria Gate proves how it is done. The building positions itself in the city centre like a beacon of progressive thinking, reflecting the forward-looking nature of the city and its residents. How has it done this? Its façade.
“There is nothing exceptional about the car park. It is concrete, with ramps and stairs and lifts and all the other things you would expect. But like so many others of its kind, what sets it apart is its façade.
“The clever use of materials reflect the light and present a beautiful array of patterns and textures. From a distance the geometric patterning of the façade is easy to digest but then, as you move closer to the building, the twisted ribbons of the façade offer an entirely different, but equally fascinating aesthetic - creating an almost cathedral-like feeling.
A piece of art
“Through its clever façade design and treatment, the building has become something akin to a piece of art.”
He added: “Whatever your feelings about encouraging car use in our cities, this building’s exceptional exploitation of its façade through the innovative use of materials has resulted in a building worthy of comment; a building that brings something new to the make-up of the city and will, I believe, make its own positive contribution to the lives of the people that use and view it.”