By Bridget McCrea
With 253 million passenger vehicles currently on U.S. roadways – up 1.5% from 249.3 million in 2014 – developing functional-yet-aesthetic parking structures has become a common goal among project owners and specifiers alike (1).
Precast concrete is playing an increasingly important role in the creation of attractive parking structures, including many that incorporate multi-use functionality on their ground floors. Whether the driving force is historic preservation, the need to “fit in” with an urban setting or building without destroying existing architectural context, precast’s versatile, economic nature is taking center stage on projects across the country.
“Historically, parking structures have been these massive and mundane structures,” said William Pearson, formerly with Stantec and current president and CEO of Ekose’a Homes in San Francisco. “Why not make them more architecturally interesting and aesthetically pleasing? Precast has allowed us to do that.”
Butler University’s Sunset Avenue Garage
Butler University’s Sunset Avenue Garage opened last year in Indianapolis and is home to restaurants with names like “Scotty’s Dawghouse” and the “The Pita Pit.” The structure accommodates 1,038 vehicles and includes 15,000 square feet of restaurant and retail space on the main floor. Designed by CSO Architects of Indianapolis, the structure incorporates both precast concrete and embedded brick to match the surrounding area and create an attractive, functional facility for vehicles, pedestrians and customers alike.
Randy Schumacher, lead design principal at CSO, said the architectural firm teamed with Keystone Construction in a design-build arrangement. The university wanted the 60,000-square-foot garage to blend well with both the existing limestone buildings and the adjacent, all-brick Hinkle Fieldhouse. Challenged with developing a large structure that would fit nicely with the surrounding context, CSO and Keystone worked together to devise a viable solution.
“We had to break the new garage down so that it wouldn’t look like one massive, intimidating structure on Sunset Avenue,” Schumacher said.
To achieve that goal, the design-build team decided to separate the building into three different pieces and then incorporate numerous design elements that matched Butler’s existing architectural approach. Those elements included gabled limestone tower elements and window openings and thin-brick precast panels.
“We used precast for all it was worth and in so many different ways on this project, including as a backup material for limestone,” Schumacher said. “It helped us build very economically and on schedule while also achieving the aesthetics we needed to blend this garage into the campus fabric.”
Mike Patarino, Keystone’s senior vice president, said the versatile nature of the thin-brick precast panels allowed the team to create a multi-use facility that matches both sides of campus.
“Early in the design process, we decided to do a building wrap around the garage that would link both architectural types together,” Patarino explained. “The final result was a structure that included red brick designs in some areas and limestone in others.”
In addition to providing and supporting a flexible parking garage design, precast concrete offered economic and time-saving benefits as well.
“We were able to work through the winter and even handle the installation via crane during the colder months,” Patarino said. “We didn’t need to have a team of employees standing out there in the cold, pouring concrete and hand-laying everything.”
Chris Kelly, project manager with Gate Precast in Winchester, Ky., said his company used four different finishes on the job, including thin brick, stone, faux brick and as-cast precast. Of the 470 precast pieces used for the project, a number were very large, including one 40-foot-long piece that incorporated radius step bands used for the structure’s main entryway. Completed within a fairly tight, six-month timeframe, Kelly said the project lent itself to the use of precast concrete versus any other material.
“There were a number of challenging elements at play here, including the aesthetic requirements and a tight completion schedule,” Kelly said. “In the end, it all worked out very well.”
North Main Corona Metrolink Parking Structure
Situated in the middle of the everyday hustle and bustle of busy downtown Corona, Calif., the North Main Corona Metrolink Parking Structure supports the adjacent North Main Corona station with 1,415 parking spaces. The six-story parking garage cost $25 million and spans 375,000 square feet.
According to Anna Dezember, president of StructureCast in Bakersfield, Calif., the parking structure’s innovative design features a concrete moment frame and four repeating colors of 3-D architectural precast concrete panels. Manufactured by StructureCast, the garage’s architectural precast panels incorporate colored concrete. Each panel has two colors and three depths of etch and reveals.
For the project, correct panel color, reveal location and texture location were all critical considerations, given that each panel’s final installation was directly next to another on the structure. Dezember said another project challenge was delivery to the site and erection – the job site was adjacent to a fully operational train station and one of Orange County’s busiest freeways.
Using precast allowed much of the production to be completed at the StructureCast plant. As a result, the project was completed nearly three months ahead of schedule. In total, the project incorporated 740 architectural precast panels that were produced in 38 days.
“The accelerated schedule afforded by the use of precast saved the Riverside County Transportation Commission millions of dollars,” Dezember said.
Designed by Stantec, the structure includes an articulate façade design and a rhythm of solids and voids using large precast panels.
“Architecturally, the precast was extremely important because it allowed us to control and customize the design across a number of different forms from which the very large panels and the smaller components could easily be replicated,” said Pearson, the former Stantec architect who worked on the project.
Pearson said precast allowed the design team to effectively control the color and texture of the façade, thereby adding visual quality and uniformity. It also enabled customizations that would have been cost prohibitive with other materials.
“Let’s face it, parking garages are utilitarian. In order to control the budget, you have to have some means of repetition in the work,” Pearson said. “Using precast concrete, we were able to create a pattern that could be replicated. That’s just one of the things that precast brought to the project, along with being very durable, weather-able and versatile.”
Broad Ripple Village Garage and Shoppes
As one of six designated cultural districts in Indianapolis – and the only one located outside of downtown – Broad Ripple Village is a fusion of old and new as well as commercial and creative. A vibrant center of restaurants, shops and nighttime hotspots surrounded by long-established neighborhoods, Broad Ripple Village offers a lively mix of bars and clubs, art galleries, restaurants and shopping.
With all of that activity comes the need for parking – something that’s not always easy to access in a vibrant, popular area. Using vacant land that was previously occupied by a gas station, the city transformed a once-blighted property into a 160,000-square-foot, mixed-use structure via a public-private partnership.
Today, the structure accommodates a police substation, three levels of parking with approximately 350 spaces, and 25,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space. Ratio Design of Indianapolis designed the garage, which was built in a triangular shape and comes together at a point of one of the area’s major intersections. Initially, Brock Roseberry, principal, said the company considered brick as a primary material for the structure.
“It’s in an area where the architectural styles range from turn of the century all the way up to modern,” Roseberry said. “Brick was an initial consideration, but when we started looking at advancing construction schedules and gaining efficiencies during construction, precast concrete became a more viable option.”
Corey Greika, vice president and sales manager at Coreslab Structures Inc. of Indianapolis, said his company worked closely with Ratio throughout the design and development phases, making samples and assisting with some of the “panelization” that created the appearance of hand-laid masonry. The project footprint was extremely tight, he said, with the building being constructed right up against the property lines on all sides. The project schedule was equally as tight and included winter months, something that would have made on-site masonry work difficult.
Coreslab manufactured 100 units for the project for a total of 13,100 square feet of surface precast. The parking garage incorporated three different types of panels, including 8-inch- and 6-inch-thick solid and thin-brick panels. It also included various floodwalls and retaining walls for the base of the building.
“Because the area is prone to flooding, they used precast as part of the barrier system,” Greika said. “That wouldn’t have been possible with field-laid masonry. The designer would have had to come up with something completely different to address that issue.”
According to Patarino, whose firm constructed the garage, the project went “extremely well” despite the fact that it was built during Indiana’s winter months.
“We had a pretty bad winter that year, and the precast allowed us to build the façade without worrying about the weather conditions,” Patarino said, adding that the precast allowed the contractor to enhance the structure and ensure it blended well with its eclectic, urban environment. “It’s already about 80% filled with retail and making money, so we’re pretty happy with the result.”
Precast’s shining role in parking garages
With the number of cars on the road not expected to wane anytime soon, expect to see both public and private owners developing innovative ways to accommodate cars without blemishing or negatively impacting surrounding areas. Pearson predicts that more of these projects will incorporate precast, based on the success of garages like the North Main Corona Metrolink Parking Structure, Broad Ripple Village Garage and Shoppes, and Butler University’s Sunset Avenue Garage.
“Because parking garages are basically open structures that don’t have to be environmentally controlled or sealed up against water and the elements, you can window dress them in very imaginative and innovative ways,” Pearson said. “You have an open palette and no limitation of a conventional building. Things can be more sculptural and whimsical, with precast concrete serving as a great medium for designers and engineers.”
Bridget McCrea is a freelance writer who covers manufacturing, industry and technology. She is a winner of the Florida Magazine Association’s Gold Award for best trade-technical feature statewide.