The use of greenery to clad garages is, if you'll pardon the pun, a growing trend. Companies like California-based Greenscreen, which introduced its steel-based trellising system in 1993, are seeing their products specified frequently in new garages. More compelling than a green disguise for a garage, though, is the re-imagining of the garage's very program. Nashville's Tuck Hinton Architects did this when they helped realize the city's desire to transform public parking into an actual park.

The Nashville Public Square Park sits on seven and a half acres near the city's Art Deco courthouse. Once, in the 19th century, this was the heart of downtown Nashville, with commercial buildings bordering a public square and a vibrant farmers market. Ironically, it was car parking that destroyed this historic fabric during the teardown zeal of 1950s urban renewal. The buildings were felled to make way for highways and a surface lot.

“The surface lot just looked awful,” says Seab Tuck, one of Tuck Hinton's principals. After debating whether or not to try and recreate the feel of the former neighborhood, “the mayor decided he wanted to put a park there.”

But he also wanted some 1,200 parking spaces.

Tuck Hinton forged a program that honored the history of the site as well as the modern needs of an urban setting, and in spite of being a car-centric project, the pedestrian experience dictated the design. In collaboration with landscape architecture and engineering firms, the architects dug 60 feet into the bedrock and topped a seven-story subterranean garage with a four-acre green roof park that features mainly plants indigenous to the area. Car entrances were placed off the major street grid, giving pedestrians the right of way into the park as well as easy access to the courthouse and the nearby Cumberland River. The architects veiled the utilitarian components of the garage by turning them into focal points. Elevators and stairs, for example, look more like towering monuments. A single elevator services both the garage and an observation deck, where visitors can go view the skyline while learning about the past through engraved granite markers. “History infused this area,” Tuck says. “Andrew Jackson had a duel here.” The roof park earned a 2007 Green Roof Award of Excellence from Green Roofs for Healthy Cities.

The roof of a green garage that opened in Santa Monica, Calif., in March is given over to photovoltaic panels, which provide all the energy needed to fuel the seven-story structure, designed by Moore Ruble Yudell for the Santa Monica Civic Center. This is the first LEED-certified parking facility in the country. Undulating façades of precast white-ribbed concrete panels and multicolored channel glass cloak 900 parking spaces. From inside, the architects provide views of the nearby Pacific Ocean.


When talking about parking garage design, how do you get your client to think outside the box?

Often, it starts by making the design conversation a program conversation, according to Christopher Giattina, principal and director of Giattina Aycock Architecture Studio (GA Studio) in Birmingham, Ala. Giattina says it's about helping clients rethink the way they can use land set aside for parking in the first place. “An owner generally thinks commodity,” Giattina says. “I've never had anyone say, ‘I really want a beautiful parking deck.'”

As a result, Giattina says, the average parking garage becomes a dead space, a big blank wall that can thwart contiguous streetscapes and the pedestrian experience. “So how do you cleverly solve parking deck design with a client?” Giattina asks. “If you talk about it from a design perspective, the conversation is relatively short. But if you quit thinking of it as a parking deck alone and think of it as available land to solve multiple issues, then you can engage in a broader dialogue.”

  • Credit: Peter Arkle

In 2006, Giattina and his team completed a data center and a parking deck for a longtime client, the Children's Health System. At the start, the client wanted to use the parcel of land to expand parking for its hospital in Birmingham. Giattina questioned the client about other infrastructure needs and learned that the hospital also required space for the data center. He suggested incorporating both needs into the same plan, using cost-effective building materials. The client agreed—on the condition that the data center sit on top of the garage.

“We then asked them: ‘Do you want to have a campus that obliterates a full city block at the pedestrian level?' And they said, ‘Well, no,'” Giattina recounts.

The client ultimately agreed to invert the model and put the data center beneath the garage. GA Studio wrapped the data center in a two-story band of clear glass, enlivening the street and giving the pedestrian a view of activity inside the building. On the upper floors, the architects camouflaged the garage with cost-effective 5-foot-by-5-foot perforated steel panels, which they designed in-house.

During the day, the panels mask what is inside the garage but allow drivers to see out. At night, they glow from the light inside. The cost of the panels came in at about $14 each, and GA Studio is now looking to bring them to market.

“There was a little pushback, even from this client, who we've worked with for many years, but they embraced it in the end,” Giattina says. “Ultimately, you have to understand that this is a commodity-driven function, and you need to frame it as an economic opportunity.”