Thursday, November 12, 2009

House of Cars

Cars are made for motion, but much of their lives are spent sedentary. Either out in the elements or guarded in a garage, automobiles need a place to park. Most often in a city that means a parking garage. Building Collector reader Howie G. sent me a tip about The National Building Museum’s new exhibition, House of Cars: Innovation and the Parking Garage. Exploring the integration of parking into our cities and towns over the past century, the exhibit invites us to look more closely at parking issues as we plan our future communities. A showcase for innovation; a training ground for the 20th century's best-known architects; and now, a new direction for sustainable city planning; the parking garage tells many stories. The exhibit challenges this notion using examples of well-designed garages that add a creative tapestry to our streetscapes. It concludes with the question, "What does the future hold for parking?" and invites visitors to think about new types of parking solutions. Photographs and architectural drawings documenting the changing structures we have built to store cars, from the 1905 Garage de la Société Ponthieu in Paris to a LEED-platinum certified sustainable garage in Florida built just this year. Objects as varied as a wind-up parking garage toy, a 1930s guidebook advertising safe parking garages for African Americans, a 1950s parking garage time stamp machine and a translucent model of a proposed parking structure in Chicago, as well as art photography and sculpture inspired by the parking garage, round out the display. Very early parking garages were at gas/service stations. In cities, "car Jockeys" parked cars using turntables or elevators in tall garages. In the 1920's, the self-parking ramp-style garages emerged and became popular. Check out the exhibit if you’re in the D.C. area. NPR's All things Considered also did a report about the exhibit - listen to it here. A question I have about parking garages is - why do they have to be ugly monoliths? Here are some photos of buildings whose architects who thought outside the concrete parking garage box and built innovated and pleasing parking structures. One place featured in the Building Museum’s exhibit was Marina city: the city within a city. The duel cylindrical towers in Chicago were built with the first 19 floors form an exposed spiral parking ramp operated by valet with 896 parking spaces per building. Marina City is a mixed-use residential/commercial building complex occupying an entire city block on State Street in Chicago, Illinois. The complex consists of two corn cob-shaped 65-story (including 5-story elevator & physical plant penthouse), 587 foot (179 m) tall residential towers, a saddle-shaped auditorium building, and a mid-rise hotel building all contained on a raised platform cantilevered over defunct railroad tracks adjacent to the river. Beneath the raised platform at river level is a small marina for pleasure craft. The Marina City complex was designed in 1959 by architect Bertrand Goldberg and completed in 1964. When finished, the two towers were both the tallest residential buildings and the tallest reinforced concrete structures in the world. The complex was billed as a "city within a city", featuring numerous on-site facilities including a theatre, gym, swimming pool, ice rink, bowling alley, several stores, restaurants, parking and a marina. Originally rental apartments, the complex converted to condominiums in 1977. Marina City apartments are unique in containing almost no interior right angles. On each residential floor, a circular hallway surrounds the elevator core, which is 32 feet (10 m) in diameter, with 16 pie-shaped wedges arrayed around the hallway. Apartments are composed of these triangular wedges. Bathrooms and kitchens are located nearer to the "point" of each wedge, towards the inside of the building. Living areas occupy the outermost areas of each wedge. Each wedge terminates in a 175-square-foot (16.3 square meter) semi-circular balcony, separated from living areas by a floor-to-ceiling window wall. Because of this arrangement, every single living room and bedroom in Marina City has a balcony. InfocusTech makes a replica of Marina city. This pewter replica building stands 4-5/8 inches tall and is finished in new pewter. InfocusTech also makes replica of the Carew Tower Complex is located at 441 Vine St. in Cincinnati Ohio. Completed in 1931. the building was designed by Walter W. Ahlschlager and Delano & Aldrich. The complex as designed consisted of the 49 story 574' Carew Tower, the 31 story 372' Netherland Plaza Hotel, and the 27 story 342' Carew-Netherland parking garage. The garage, demolished in the late 1980's was the tallest building ever built devoted entirely to automobile parking. This pewter replica stands 4-1/2 inches tall and is finished in new pewter with brown stain. The garage stood 342 feet with 27 floors. There are a few other souvenir buildings which include a parking garage as part of the structure and replica. A Texas Banthrico Bank is a 1960's pot metal bank replica if the Dallas office tower and an adjacent parking garage. The First National Bank of Amarillo, Texas Banthrico coin bank has an attached 7-story parking garage. The Joliet Federal Savings and Load Association replica has a garage next door and you can you can see the rooftop parking spaces in the pewter miniature. Do you know of any other miniature building replicas of parking garages? Checkout this amateur video (below) during the filming of a commercial for All-State Insurance of a call falling from the Marina City parking garage.

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