July 31, 2003
An ancient style car park and a modern style pumping station

I've just done another piece about car park design for Samizdata, featuring a picture of this one.

I said in passing that, although old fashioned looking wrapping for a technologically modern object, railway terminus style, seemed in this case to have worked quite well, it would be nice if the outsides of some car parks were a bit more modern looking too.

Part of the problem is that we were all, I think, so very badly burned in the sixties and seventies, a time when "multi-story car park" was just another way of saying "the ultimate in hideousness". Brutalist concrete was pretty ghastly when used to make things like London's National Theatre, but when applied to car parks, it sank to a nadir of ghastliness. Anything, certainly including faked up classicism, is better than that.

Michael Jennings commented with an intriguing comparison between car parks and airport buildings:

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.

I also mentioned that in earlier times, designers were in the habit of dressing high tech buildings, such as water pumping stations, in old-fashioned garb. In that connetion, Gawain, of this fame (don't ask me what it is but it looks pretty), also offered Samizdata readers this link.

KILLJOY UPDATE from Patrick Crozier:

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.

This is surrender, a counsel of despair. I still say it, car parks could look fantastic. Individual cars look great, often. Why can't clutches of them be made to look great as well?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 08:46 PM
Category: Architecture