Archive for Tore down paradise and put up a parking lot

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.



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.

axon3 2

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.



DSC02677 blow up

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!

Happy Park(ing) Day!!!

Park(ing) day began in 2005 with a single installation in San Francisco by the art a design studio Rebar . The purpose? To “call attention to the need for more urban open space, to generate critical debate around how public space is created and allocated, and to improve the quality of urban human habitat” ( In Rebar’s initial installation, they ‘rented’ (plugged the meter) for two hours, rolled out some sod, a tree, and provided a bench.  When the two hours was over they packed up and left.

The original Park(ing) Day installation by Rebar

Since the first year Rebar has created the Park(ing) Day Manual, an open-source guide to help others create their own temporary urban modular service installations.  This image and guide, through blogs and social media have attracted world wide participation (In 2011 975 parks were created, in 162 cities, and 35 countries). Using a metered parking space, Park(ing) Day has expanded in recent years beyond providing an urban park to provide other services including “free health clinics, planted temporary urban farms, produced ecology demonstrations, held political seminars, built art installations, opened free bike repair shops and even held a wedding ceremony” ( Follow this link to check out some of the Philadelphia installations from 2011.

Check out this map to find your local registered Park(ing) Day participants for 2012.  Unfortunately, I do not see a Milwaukee installation on the map, however I am already developing some ideas for 2013 🙂

Have a happy Park(ing) Day!

Off Hours

By day this lot is full of vehicles as all the commuters need a place to stash their ride, but come five o’clock it empties out, leaving and empty 1/2 a city block in the heart of downtown completely abandoned. The downtown flat lot always fascinates me because it takes what should be valuable land and wastes it with a blight that is only used for a small part of the day.  In a continuation of last weeks introduction to Patchopolis, this week we consider the urban impacts of one of my favorite urban sites – the flat parking lot.

After 5:00

One of Milwaukee's many flat lots, nearly abandoned at 5:00

There are approximately 240 million passenger vehicles in the U.S. While that number is staggering to me, what I find most interesting is the infrastructure necessary to make that number possible(University of California Transportation Center, para 5).  When you buy a car, the assumption is you will have a place to park it when at home, work, shopping, or out to dinner.  To making the simple amenity of parking available, there are estimated to be 92-1,100 million on-street parking spaces and 520-790 million surface lot spaces nationally (University of California Transportation Center, para 7). This comes out to an estimate of as many as 8 total parking spaces per vehicle in the U.S.

Average change in the difference between urban and rural temperatures, 1961-2010

From the Louisville Courier-Dispatch, James Bruggers, 05/06/2012

The downtown lot not only is a visual blight that creates a break in any pedestrian strip, they come at a large cost to community community health between concrete emissions and the effects of urban heat island.  While the direct effects of urban heat islands can be hard to see, cities even in more temperate climates have been getting warmer over the last 50 years (James Bruggers, The Courier-Journal).  Increases in urban temperatures have contributed to over 8,000 heat-related deaths since 1979  (James Bruggers, The Courier-Journal).  When health care and environmental damages are taken into account each parking spot costs $6-$23 a year (University of California Transportation Center, para 3).

So if parking lots are visually and physically a disruption to our city streets and contributing to poor health, what can we do to lessen the impact of this necessary utility?  Eran Ben-Joseph, a professor of landscape architecture and planning at MIT and author of ReThinking a Lot, I think phrases the question best — “Can parking have beauty and greatness in the less than obvious traits of aesthetics and form?” (Tom Vanderbilt, Slate)

To liven the space up, people must be brought to the lot and given the opportunity to use parts of the space, making it less car-centric. How do we liven up the space? One way is to find means to re-utilize the lot during off-hours.  An example can be seen in a recent Milwaukee event, where a lot was used for a tailgate and broadcast of an out of town Brewer’s game.

Beer tent, food trucks and a large projection screen draws a few hundred to watch the road game.

This, however, is a temporary use of the space.  ““Why can’t parking lots be modest paradises?” Ben-Joseph asks. Why can’t they be “a pleasant place to visit and coexist with cars”?” (Tom Vanderbilt, Slate) .  This will be the focus of many future articles of this blog.  Rather than a site for off-hours gathering and community events, how does parking become more city integrated, with regular business making them more pedestrian friendly and integrated with the downtown?