Park your business here: Parking garage façades pay off big time
Parking is an essential element of most any property. Yet North Americans rarely exhibit creativity when it comes to building parking structures that protect and contain their automobiles, sports utility vehicles and trucks. Typically, ramps and garages stand as bland and boring concrete bunkers that dominate the streetscape or become invisible with hidden underground entrances and shrouded landscaping.
“Nobody wants to see parking,” says Stephen Rebora, vice president of Desman Associates in Chicago. “If they could, nearly every property owner would put his or her parking underground and out of sight, but this is usually very expensive. So, economics force you to go above ground.” As specialists in designing, engineering and planning parking facilities, Desman’s projects frequently showcase the eye-catching, functional qualities of glazing materials.
“Security is the number-one concern,” Rebora says. “To increase the feeling of comfort, increase the amount of natural light. When people can be seen and can see out, they feel safer. Parking structures contain a huge amount of square footage. We want to reduce the potential for dimly lit hiding places and areas that some people may use as their washrooms. Normally, this means introducing glazing systems in the stairwells and elevator towers.”
Designers at Desman Associates recently completed the North Campus Parking Deck at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign with F.A. Wilhelm Construction Co. of Indianapolis. Designed by Booth Hansen, the facility features four three-sided glass-backed elevators, glazed stair towers and lobbies. “You can see right through from the outside,” says Ken Williams, a glazier with Branner Glass Co. of Springfield, Ill. “There’s no place to hide.” He worked on the project.
Along with offering a sense of security, Williams says that the glazed towers act as a wind block “basically keeping people out of the weather as they wait for the elevator or walk up and down the stairs.” During recent years, he’s noticed more glazing components on parking facilities. These are placed at the building’s corners in similar stairwell and elevator applications, and serve as barriers from vehicle exhaust. Such architectural elements provide glass suppliers and contract glaziers nationwide with value-added, niche market opportunities.
Beyond these basics, Rebora says, in the best examples of parking facility designs, glazing systems can become architectural focal points involving etched and backlit glass signs, dramatic canopies, or all-glass lobbies and atriums. Designers at Desman Associates worked closely with general contractor Donley’s of Cleveland and Collins Gordon Bostwick Architects, also of Cleveland, to establish such a focal point at Ohio’s Cleveland Clinic Foundation campus. They created a light-filled glass atrium uniting the 93rd Street medical office building’s seven-story, 1,300-car parking garage with the Heart Center.
Workers from Harmon Inc. of Eden Prairie, Minn., installed the composite panels, granite and 10 types of glass from Viracon of Owatonna, Minn. Some types include 1-inch insulating glass with a custom silk-screen on the number-two surface and an antique coating on number three, and 1-inch IG with a low-emissivity coating. At night, the lighting inside illuminates the curtain wall to create a beacon for the Cleveland Clinic Campus, revitalized Euclid Avenue corridor and the historic Fairfax District.
Respecting local aesthetics, Rebora observes a trend to incorporate the “same architectural characteristics and similar cladding materials as the adjacent properties.” Embracing the character of Denver’s Cherry Creek neighborhood, a mixed-use parking facility occupies a former parking lot for the Sears Roebuck Co. Designed by RNL Design of Denver in association with Shears Adkins Architects LLC also of Denver, the five-story building blends with street-level retailers and upper-level offices. Its top floors are stepped back to minimize its scale and maximize daylight throughout the structure and onto pedestrian paths below.
Linked by glass skyways
“Pedestrian movement is just as important as vehicle movement,” Rebora emphasizes. “The parking facility simply serves to bring people closer to their primary destinations.”
In anticipation of its future crowds, a blue glass skyway will link the new Guthrie Theater and its adjacent parking garage in Minneapolis. Officials at McGough Construction of St. Paul, Minn., rely on Harmon’s glazing team to install the elaborate glass façades as envisioned by French architect Jean Nouvel with local architecture partner Architectural Alliance. Seven types of Viracon glass was used in the theater: VE-2M Vision, VS-08 Vision, VE-85 Vision, Yellow Vision, Mirrored Glass, and Clear Vision in two thicknesses.
“In contrast to the complexity of the theater, the parking structure is fairly straightforward, but there are a lot of 90-degree integrated corners,” says Mike Berwick, Harmon’s project manager. “And we need to make the exterior appear as if each story is straight, while on the interior each level has sloped and changing height elevations.”
Those looking at the theater complex from the outside will note its striking yellow and blue façade, says Guthrie’s architects: “By day, the metallic outlines sparkle in the sunlight, and by night, the metallic dark blue will fade, leaving only a few pictorial accents in the dark.”
Tinted glass also can be used in creative ways to baffle or shield harsh lighting at night, especially if the parking facility is in a residential neighborhood, Rebora adds. As an example, he points to architect Richard Fleishman’s signature design for 515 Euclid’s residential and parking tower, combining color, translucency and reflectivity of glass to create a vibrant presence in downtown Cleveland. “Functional and beautiful, the building looks like a Tiffany lamp lit up at night.”
While commercial glazing systems are not as fragile as a Tiffany lamp, Rebora cautions, “anything that can get hit, will get it. Unlike most facilities where the main concerns are for protection on the exterior, we have to protect both the inside and outside.”
Bullet-resistant systems are definitely worth thinking about, says Doug Williams, product manager, C.R. Laurence Co., based in Los Angeles. Sliding, cashier and bi-fold service windows; handrails, mirrors, doors and entrances, all can be specified to meet the relevant security requirements of parking facilities. “They’re easily installed and readily available, and offer the kind of protection that can be needed for exactly this type of application,” he says.
In addition to ballistic glazing materials, new opportunities may be uncovered for hurricane-resistant systems in high wind zones, acoustical systems in high traffic zones and thermal performance systems in extreme climates. “We’re dealing with a live building, usually in the form of long-span concrete subject to expansion and contraction depending on the season or the time of day,” Rebora says.
He also encourages glazing contractors to consider the vibration and movement “from the cars rolling around in this big space. Be careful to leave adequate gaps between building materials to accommodate these shifting connections.” For these reasons, unusual building materials may require special consideration.
At Chicago’s new Millennium Park, officials at Wausau Window and Wall Systems of Wausau, Wis., teamed with Spire Solar Chicago officials to provide its SuperWall system with integrated photovoltaic panels for two solar-powered parking pavilions. Both buildings provide access to parking below and the northwest pavilion also serves as a welcome center and a venue for special exhibitions.
Wausau’s engineering team worked closely with architects at Hammond Beeby Rupert Ainge Architects of Chicago to maintain the pavilions’ intended design, while meeting the performance needs. Using Wausau’s SuperWall system, workers at Associated Glaziers of Chicago met the constricted schedule and finished installation in a few weeks time. “We brought to bear a combination of design and engineering disciplines to ensure a safe, code-compliant, facade-integrated, photovoltaic array,” says Steve Fronek, Wausau’s vice president. “Achieving this, or any successful glazing project, takes expertise and experience, as well as constant communication and close collaboration.”