Rebirth of a Parking Lot

The parking lot is an urban site that I find fascinating. During graduate school I spent an architectural studio analyzing and developing a conceptual design for the redevelopment of a strip mall and its parking lot. I spent another studio taking a brownfield site that was predominantly a parking lot and, using LEED for Neighborhood Development as a guide, designed the site to meld with the surrounding neighborhood. In a course on evidence-based design I researched how pedestrians and vehicles interact in parking lots. Finally, my Master of Architecture final project focused on how to turn park-n-rides into infrastructural hubs. In summary, I spent many class hours of my architectural degree staring, not at buildings, but at large paved areas outside them, trying to find opportunities to make the parking lot a part of urban life.

The project that has stuck with me most is my analysis and redevelopment of the strip mall site. The Minneapolis strip mall, as with many stripmalls, has become a blight of faltered economics put on display behind a vast desert of parking lot.

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This site alienates pedestrians and makes the site as a whole feel like a scene out of an apocalyptic movie. Besides not providing a service to the community, the large parking lot is a giant heat island, increasing ground temperature and rushing rainwater to sewers and rivers faster than intended.

In the design I use the order of the parking lot to organize the site and create a field to break the desert and draw the pedestrian in, reviving commerce and creating a social center for the community. Through manipulation of the grid of the existing strip mall and parking lot in the z-axis, zones of density are created that institute smaller central structures for commerce and gathering.

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The density of the poles hides views and creates intrigue in passersbys about what lies within and beyond. Within this denser, pedestrian oriented space a zone for urban agriculture is created. This disrupts the heat island effect of the traditional parking lot through shading the lot and dividing the pavement, converting this once deserted space into a center for community.

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After ‘completing’ the analysis and conceptual design for the ‘final’ presentation of my six-week studio project, I wanted to keep working the design to see how it would further evolve; however, I had no compelling inspiration on where to go with it or opportunity to continue working on it as it was time to begin a new studio design course. So there the project sat, in my design portfolio as a work sample and in the back of my mind ever since… until one recent weekend! As I stared at the remainder of another design-build project (actually the project that came in my following studio) and thought about its process in combination with this Sukkah City (Steven Heller, The Atlantic) installation from 2010, it finally hit me how I wanted to explore materiality to further develop the strip mall site.

The development of this design will be the next new site for Patchopolis and I will spend the next few weeks creating a digital model and developing the small oasis buildings within the parking lot, allowing their materiality to guide how they pour out to define the grid within the parking lot. Enough parking will be preserved to still serve the site, however more pedestrian friendly passageways and community centric zones will be created to breakup the vastness of the lot. In the mean time, I will also continue to work through design ideas from past posts and will soon get an update posted on my window farm, which has some plants that have really taken off and taken over my window, but more to come on the later…

Thank you and have a great week!