Posted by gninja on January 22, 2008
There is a great, great article about parking garages at the Washington Post. Hell, I’ve never parked a car in my life (no driver’s license), and I find this fascinating.
The article reviews a talk (based on the speaker’s new book) dealing with the design and evolution of parking garages. The basic premise is that garages, once impressive architectural works, became uglier as motorists demanded greater convenience.
Towards the end of the article, the journalist adds some editorial commentary that I had hoped–but never expected–would be made:
McDonald’s passion is not undiscriminating, but it is premised on some things that we would all be better off questioning. Garages, McDonald argues, are a necessity, essential to our fundamental American right to mobility in an urbanized world. The challenge is to build them better.
Yes, they can be built better than they have been (they can intersect with mass transit, they can be hidden underground or disguised behind better facades). But until the economics of urban land use and the demand for huge amounts of parking change, they can never really be made beautiful. They are almost always too large to be successfully hidden and, rather like funeral parlors, no matter how nice they are on the outside, you always know what’s on the inside. In the case of garages, it’s hundreds of little environmental disasters that burden their owners with debt, insulate them from society, frazzle them with constant cleaning and maintenance and pollute a crowded world.
If you hate garages — for being city killers, for ruining neighborhoods, for discouraging mass transit — there is no such thing as a good garage.
Which brought, to my mind, an interesting question. Can aesthetics prompt (or be instrumental in) a movement to get rid of these things and, as a consequence, cars? It’s an idealistic question, to be sure. Nevertheless.
Now, we know parking garages are ugly. Most of the ones I’ve seen anyway.
Why ugly? It is a giant box plunked onto the street, aesthetically oblivious to its surroundings. It has no architecturally elements that encourage the eye to move in a manner that engages the mind (just long horizontals or negative space across a facade of uniform color and texture). Look, if you like Philliip Johnson, then this is probably for you . But, even then, aren’t Johnson’s buildings supposed to give the mind little to do when looking at them? Maybe four years at List Art Center just made me bitter.
The point, though, is that, clearly, this kind of ugliness hasn’t caused a great enough reaction to cause people to ditch their cars.
But, maybe this a product of naturalization in design. It’s common for the mind to accept images (or sights) as givens when no alternatives are presented. (This is why the use of two projectors or side-by-side images on Powerpoint is so successful in art history classes– comparison forces the mind to consider alternatives).
So. What if, instead of designing better and more beautiful garages (like the ASU one pictured up top), people start designing better and more beautiful bus depots, subways, etc? Give people visual alternatives and perhaps behavioral alternatives will ensue?
I’m such an idealist.