Friday, April 12, 2013

Automated Parking

The Architecture of Automated Parking 
By: Lucas E. Shubert

Parking is constant design problem for architects, engineers, and all kinds of planning professionals. Typically, in dense urban areas, the most viable solution is to create a free-standing structure dedicated to parking—a parking garage. However, dense urban areas are not the only optimal candidates for parking garages. Small cities throughout the U.S. could benefit from the potential pedestrian scale mass parking that automated parking garages can provide.

The difference between traditional ramp parking garages and automated parking garages is minimum double potential capacity per same unit area combined with ease of use. Ramp garages require at least enough space for one lane of traffic per each stall, whereas automated parking garages only require the space for stalls and a shared space for the central sorting machine. While both types of garage require one or more entrance terminals, human interaction with the automated type ends at there—leaving more space for parking stalls.

Since there is so little interaction between the user and the interior the garage structure, architectural elements such as paths of egress and accessibility are of little relevance. Furthermore, form is entirely dependent on the function of the building, based on the specialized machinery involved. Therefore, the focus of design is limited to the exterior façade and its relation to its surroundings. Natural (and for that matter, electric) light holds no value during day to day operations, but could be valuable to lower operational cost if the machinery needs repair.

So, since natural light is generally unnecessary and the only required fenestration on the exterior of the building relates to the entry terminals, how does one design an architecturally fascinating façade? The most obvious solution is to add an energy capturing system on as much of the vacant exterior as possible. A large array of solar panels can help to balance the power consumption of the robotic systems within the building. Perhaps the best solution to minimizing the potential monumentality and emptiness of the exterior of an automated parking garage is to include adjacent mixed-use spaces. That way, they can share a pedestrian scale to create a walkable downtown environment.

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