Parking spaces take up 25,000 square miles of land in the United States — an area roughly the size of West Virginia. That represents a lot of land, particularly in cities such as Los Angeles, where parking takes up 13 percent of all space. But architects, urban planners and city leaders are starting to look at parking — particularly large parking garages — in a new light. And that comes thanks to autonomous vehicles.
How so? As autonomous vehicles move beyond pilot programs and into widespread use, sharing our rides will start to become more popular than owning them. Many of the garages where commuters park all day, experts say, will become modern-day dinosaurs. But their extinction brings new opportunities — offices, retail, even housing.
Architects at the global architecture firm Gensler have already started reimagining parking garages. One of their concepts shows how modular units could slide into an existing garage to provide student and low-cost housing (photo above). Another illustrates a fictional cultural space in Los Angeles called “The MOD,” which evolves over time from a space strictly for cars to one for people.
The concepts are key to “future-proofing” projects, experts say. Planning for a garage’s future use during the initial construction process, for example, would help ensure floors are level, ceilings are higher (or easily removable) and daylight is as plentiful as possible.
The best example, however, isn’t a concept. It’s reality. The new Cincinnati headquarters for data analytics company 84.51°, designed by Gensler, includes three floors of parking that can eventually be converted to office space. Those floors — located between the ground level and five floors of offices — match the rest of the 841,000-square-foot building’s façade, and windows can someday easily replace the existing ventilation screens.