Ramp Revolution: Stefan Rettich, Simon Henley, Anne-Catherine Schröter / EAST


Event details

Date 18.03.2024
Hour 14:0018:00
Speaker Stefan Rettich (University Kassel), on: Urban Obsolescence - Automotive Infrastructure
Simon Henley (Henley Halebrown, London), on: The Architecture of Parking
Anne-Catherine Schröter (FHNW, Basel), on: The Evolution of Parking Garages in Switzerland        
Category Conferences - Seminars
Event Language English
Ramp Revolution
Tackle the Type: Parking Garage
Parking structures, often viewed as mere utilitarian constructs within the urban landscape, have morphed into architectural phenomena that provoke a wide array of interpretations. For many, these buildings symbolize the structure of potential edifices, as noted by architect Paul Rudolph, who once remarked, "most parking garages are simply skeletal frames that never received their walls. They are essentially office buildings without the glass." This viewpoint highlights their raw, unfinished allure, accentuating their versatility and open nature. 
The evolution of parking structures represents a complex balance between architectural creativity and societal demands. Initially designed to accommodate the rise in individual vehicle traffic in urban centers, their form and function have evolved multiple times. With urban expansion and the surge in property values, these constructions have developed not only in height and depth but also in functionality. As cities grew into more complex systems, the architectural and functional aspects of these facilities had to adapt to remain relevant in the swiftly changing urban landscape. In examining parking structures, we can identify two distinct approaches as our cultural achievements. 
One approach has been to dig downwards, favouring the invisibility of the automobile demand and reclaiming the surface for human use. However, these subterranean caverns dug into the earth appear inflexible for potential repurposing. Excavated, constructed entirely of concrete, and sealed, resemble both tomb and tombstone, serving as a stark reminder of environmental consequences. Contrarily, the alternative approach has been to build upwards, stacking levels with efficient or sculptural ramps. These buildings either carry faces of total anonymity or celebrate the automobile with their temple-like splendour. 
In reflecting on the history and architectural significance of these parking structures, two features are of paramount interest. 
Firstly, their adaptability. Many modern cities are exploring the potential of these buildings beyond mere vehicle storage, thereby reinforcing Edmund Burke's notion that garages are peculiar places open to "mental interpretation." Parking structures are being repurposed into urban farms, residential units, and even cultural venues. This shift aligns with sustainable urban development goals aimed at reducing land consumption and promoting adaptable reuse. A quintessential example is the transformation of a parking garage in Miami into a high-end retail area, where commerce and parking integrate seamlessly. 
The second observation is the tight connection between parking structures and urban mobility patterns. As cities grapple with pollution, traffic jams, and the demand for a more communal and sustainable mode of transportation, the future of parking garages remains uncertain. Will they become obsolete in an era of autonomous vehicles and enhanced public transit? Will they further increase their efficiency and perfect their single-purpose approach or will they transform into something entirely unforeseen? 
The legacy of parking garages is undeniably linked to our car-oriented urban society. Sturdy concrete frames, spiral ramps, and the rhythmic patterns of parked cars reflect a city's relationship with its vehicles. However, as the evolution of urban mobility accelerates, architects and urban planners are innovatively rethinking the design and purpose of these structures. It's not just about where cars are parked but how these spaces can be re-integrated into the urban fabric. 
We must acknowledge that parking garages primarily serve as infrastructural entities that have left their mark on the urban fabric in various ways alongside the evolution of the automobile over the past decades. 
Amid increasing recognition of the importance of sustainable transportation options, urban redevelopment, and the implementation of alternative energy solutions, numerous structures are currently experiencing a phase of transformation. This reality is characterized by vacancies, partial deconstruction, demolition, and -on rare occasions- repurposing. 
Often rendered obsolete due to their low floor heights and structural depths, we should actively participate in determining their fate. What if, instead of demolishing them, we take ownership? Like squatters claiming their massive shelf-like construction for urban life? What if we view their optimized compactness as an advantage? What if we see the grid-like monotony as the order of a new creative system? 

Practical information

  • General public
  • Free


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parking obsolescence resilience construction

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