Parking garages are ugly by their very nature: They're metal cages that take up valuable space in our cities to house our automobiles for a few high-priced hours. But not all garages have to be ugly. In fact, three of the most beautiful are located within a few blocks of each other, in the city of Santa Monica, California.
Why does this beachside city have such beautiful garages? It's thanks to a unique convergence of factors. In recent years, Santa Monica experienced a parking crisis and needed to add spaces—fast. Instead of paving half the downtown, the city decided to create state-of-the-art garages that other cities could look to for the future of parking. The new structures not only had to contribute positively to the urban environment, but they also had to offer a variety of street-level uses and top-of-the-line sustainability features. Add to all that the high concentration of great local design firms—yes, all these garages were designed locally—and you've got lovely homegrown car storage.
Santa Monica Parking Structure #6
This garage designed by IPD, Studio Jantzen, and Morley Construction offers 744 spaces on 11 levels of parking (three subterranean), replacing a parking structure on the exact same footprint that only had 340 spaces. A simple redesign of traffic flow and layout helped to increase efficiency, as well as add racks for 90 bikes and 19 motorcycles.
Instead of poking around dark, stinky stairwells in the center of the structure, drivers can walk up and down the bright red staircases on the exterior, which encourage active transportation, increase public safety, and improve wayfinding.
Santa Monica Civic Center
When it was built, this garage by Moore Ruble Yudell Architects & Planners was the first LEED-certified parking garage in the country. The building is powered by solar panels which also shade the top floor, and in addition to the 900 spaces for cars, the garage has 14 electric vehicle spots and an area for bike parking as well.
The textured concrete walls hide the cars from the street while creating a backdrop for a series of colored glass panels. During the day, the panels create stained-glass effects in the sunshine, and at night they are illuminated with LEDs.
Santa Monica Place
When developers decided to peel off the roof of a garish Frank Gehry-designed mall and give the entire complex a reboot, the Santa Monica firm of Brooks + Scarpa tackled the parking garage, helping to refresh the structure from the outside.
A series of horizontal cement board slats inspired by wood palettes are arranged along the exterior wall, creating a permeable screen that allows in the light and colors from the street, without revealing too many details of the cars within.
Have you parked in a garage prettier than these? Drop a photo in the comments.
Images by Gary Krueger; John Edward Linden, Brooks + Scarpa