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A new ye olde car park

It is now an established Samizdatista hobby whenever we gather: taking the piss out of Brian for his unhealthy interest in car parks.

Well, you’re all completely wrong, and you’re all missing the point completely, or rather, getting hold of the right stick, but at completely the wrong end. Don’t you get it? The very thing that makes my fascination with car parks so laughable to all you idiots is my exact point. Car parks, now, are, almost all of them, crap. So, obviously, a car park spotter is ridiculous. Ho, ho, ho. But the crapness of car parks now is my exact point, and I am only a car park spotter if the car park in question, unlike almost all car parks nowadays, is worth spotting.

Like this one, linked to about a month ago by David Sucher of City Comforts Blog, but which I’ve only just noticed his posting about, in Staunton Virginia.

Said ArchNewsNow.com all those weeks ago:

Staunton, Virginia, has worked hard to preserve and enhance its historic neighborhoods and to keep its downtown vital and attractive. The city’s ongoing attention to streetscape, underground power, and building preservation is creating a vibrant, resurgent, and energetic community.

One of the “stars” of the downtown regeneration is, of all things, the New Street Parking Garage. The design for the garage, by Staunton-based Frazier Associates, came out of an inclusive team approach: the designers worked closely with government officials and local citizens (in a city known for its resistance to change) through an intensive public design process.

The result is a new “landmark” building at the entrance to downtown Staunton. “In the past, architects designed beautiful buildings for visitors to arrive in,” says design lead Kathy Frazier, AIA. “Somehow that didn’t get translated to parking garages, and people grew accustomed to parking in these ugly utilitarian buildings. The question we asked ourselves is ‘Why can’t we make a parking garage beautiful and celebrate the arrival sequence like we used to with train stations?’”

The idea of an ye olde looking car park doesn’t really appeal to me. Why can’t it look snazzy? Like, say, a snazzy car? But the reality of the thing seems actually to be rather handsome. And if a railway station can look ye olde, why can’t a car park? Thinking about it, all manner of high tech structures actually used to be done up in Greek Temple or Roman Villa style, such as water pumping stations, power stations, railway signal boxes, railway tunnel entrances, railway bridge towers. It isn’t just the grand city terminuses. So why not car parks?

But don’t let the argument about style deflect from the important thing about this, or any other such design, which is that concentrating parked cars in a heap rather than letting them sprawl all over the landscape doesn’t just rescue the aesthetics of car parking, but the aesthetics of the entire surrounding neighbourhood.

13 comments to A new ye olde car park

  • [Austrian Accent]

    Hmmm…und for how long, prezisely, have you had zis unhealtzy inderest in car parks?

  • Quite right to, a fine example of a modern attempt to beautify rather than uglify in this style is John Outrams Isle of Dogs pumping station. Not a very promising thought I agree but take a look here and see what I mean

  • Fidddlesticks it wasn’t Outram it was Grimshaw

  • Junior

    Fiddlesticks! – how quaint…..

  • Harry Lime

    Crikey, Dave, could hardly understand a word of your banter. If you’re speaking pidegon Austrian old chap, then it’s more correctly pronounced, ” …zis unhealtzy inderest in ZE car parks?”

    Meet me near the Ferris wheel if you need more details…

  • Andy Duncan

    We’ve got a lovely car park near us, in Reading, at the Oracle Centre. This photo doesn’t do it justice, but at the centre-left there, there’s a lovely brushed-steel curving gantry covering the worst aspects of the 5-storey concrete car park:

    There’s several problems, though:

    => Retail truck drivers keep getting the Oracle Centre confused with Oracle Corporation’s UK headquarters, on the edge of Reading.

    => It’s in Reading, a town which can only be matched by Slough and Swindon, for its bugger-me ugliness.

    => I must be stark staring mad, to be even posting such a comment, and worse than that, I’ve revealed my stark staring madness by posting it! 🙂

    PS> There’s a really terrible municipal car-park in Camberley, opposite Sun Microsystem’s old UK HQ. It really is quite hideous, and full of bubble-gum and pigeon droppings. Nasty nasty nasty. Municipally owned, of course, and often used to soak up property taxes, by making large gangs of men paint it, continuously, in various shades of magnolia. Bizarre. But highly efficient at wasting capital.

  • Until about 15 years ago, airports were considered an architectural and design disaster area that nobody ever said a kind word about, but since then the very best architects have started designing terminals and they seem to be considered almost prestige projects. (The three that come immediately to mind are Norman Foster’s terminal at Stansted here in London and his much bigger one at Chek Lap Kok airport in Hong Kong, and also Renzo Piano’s Kansai airport terminal in Osaka). There has definitely been a transformation there, as a class of building seen as functional and inherently ugly is no longer necessarily seen that way.

    Car parks could go the same way.However, the advantage of airport terminals are that they are very big, and lots of people see them. Car parks are inherently much smaller, and as a consequence it is going to be hard to get decent architects interested in them, except as part of a larger project.

  • Guy Herbert

    There are lots of extant postcards of bus garages and motorways, so why not car parks?

    I trust you know and love Henrietta Street, Marylebone, and the Stratford-on-Avon ziggurat?

  • But wouldn’t it be better if you couldn’t see them at all? One of the things that struck me about many central Tokyo stations is that you can’t see them from outside – they are encased in modern, multi-storey buildings. The station is there somewhere in the middle. Why not the same for car parks?

    Come to think of it, isn’t that the whole point of underground car parks?

    Ultimately, cars are a mess. Far better (for the sake of aesthetics) to hide them away somewhere.

  • Richard A. Heddleson


    I think the argument could be made differently. There are a lot of merchants in downtowns of small cities and towns who have to compete with Walmart, unlike airports whch do not have competitors, in most cases. One of the ways they will be able to compete is by creating an ambience nicer than Walmart’s that makes shopping an experience about more than low price or the cookie cutter sameness of enclosed malls.

    Architects are not the problem. There are probably more “decent” ones than we need, as reflected in their average income. The problem is the pursekeepers giving them a budget that allows them to be something other than the low cost designer of low cost buildings. I suspect this project will have a lot more impact on the pursekeepers than on the architects. Once they think creating an ambience for downtown will take sales from Walmart, they will pony up for the incremental cost of an attractive car park, as you all say.

    Thanks for the post, Brian. Very interesting, though the last picture in the link shows how the building is not only attractive iteslf but serves to complement the community in which it sits and challenge building owners to meet a new standard of attractiveness.

  • Eamon Brennan

    Stansted is a complete disaster and Norman Foster has got to take all the blame.

    He designed a building that would channel the flow of passengers through the terminal simply and beautifully. The only problem being that passenger numbers would have to be restricted to a quarter of of the terminals current traffic. Its a tribute to the mans vanity that it never occurred to him that increased passenger numbers might have to be considered above his “vision”.

    Stansted worked wonderfully for the first few years of its existence. ever since then its been one long bodge job after another.

    Fucking planners and fucking architects. Vile creatures, all of them.


  • It took you a month to find it?!