While car parks may rank fairly low on an aesthetic scale and are often viewed as unattractive blots on the landscape, they are undoubtedly ubiquitous.

The world’s population growth, higher income levels and the development of urban areas has led to a greater number of vehicles in use in every country and region of the world calling for more car parks to be built.

However, a scarcity of space in urban and suburban areas and generally high land costs has forced urban planners to find a solution to ease parking issues particularly around airports, city centres and sports stadiums. The answer has been multilevel car parks. To date these buildings have designed as unappealing utility buildings, however, the awareness that these structures are not only part of the landscape but are also subject to the same environmental considerations as any other building we design, has given rise to newer, more aesthetically pleasing structures that sit more comfortably within the surrounding fabric.

Multilevel parking has been around for decades and are often attached to a multi-use building such as a hotel, residences, retail, or restaurants. These are generally located in the basement which requires them to be mechanically ventilated and lighted with material finishes that address potential issues with moisture from the ground. Multilevel carparks sometimes have open decks at the top level for parking which also requires a specific type of finish which can withstand all weather conditions from extreme heat to lower temperatures.

An alternative to the basement type parking is the intermediate multilevel parking areas which are generally open on the facades with some protection from the elements in the form of designed screens, louvers or façade element that have been designed in keeping with the building’s design.

While these types of buildings provide natural lighting and ventilation the cost to the environment and the aesthetic distaste of these structures is high. Architects today are addressing these issues though through the use of colourful graphics inside the building and the introduction of planting areas and living walls. Incorporating green spaces not only provides a more aesthetically pleasing structure, but more importantly delivers proven ecological values, such as air purification and biodiversity. The addition of plantation helps create a beautiful space as well as helping reduce the heat island thus making it a more environmentally friendly and greener solution.

There is no doubt we are seeing an evolution in the design of public car parking facilities, from a few simple spaces in an open area to sophisticated integrated mechanical systems for automated parking, vehicle charging, vehicle location, and security for hundreds of cars. And, more recently, the creative  use of space, particularly on the upper decks or roofs of the car parks, with leisure facilities edging out parking spaces in favour of children’s play decks, senior citizen’s gathering area, a jogging track and even a swimming pool.

By Suchitra Joshi

Photo credit: ANS Global living wall at National Grid by One World Design Architects