Reinventing the Parking Garage

Zaha Hadid Architecture

Zaha Hadid is the latest in a series of starchitects to design a garage in Miami Beach.

When a delegation from Miami Beach flew to Art Basel in Switzerland last June looking for architectural inspiration for new city projects, they ended up with a plan for a parking garage. But not just any garage: a floating figure eight designed by world-renowned starchitect Zaha Hadid. At the Art Basel design fair, Miami Beach mayor Matti Bower and city manager Jorge Gonzalez got a close look at some of Hadid’s recent work and were especially drawn to the public green spaces in her plans for Seoul’s Dongdaemun Design Plaza & Park. So when the commission for a $13 million garage at Miami Beach’s Collins Park came up soon after, they asked Hadid to enter the competition. It was no surprise that she won—her stunning form-based plan and presentation is legendary—but what was shocking was that she and a roster of world-renowned international architects, from Daniel Libeskind to Robert A.M. Stern, would compete head to head to build something as quotidian as a parking structure.

If there is any city that knows how to elevate the mundane with design, it is Miami Beach, and no construction is in as much daily demand there as parking. Hadid’s will be the city’s ninth high-design garage, joining a string of them, ranging from Arquitectonica’s greenery-covered Ballet Valet to Frank Gehry’s New World Center to a towering multiuse structure by Herzog & de Meuron. According to Gonzalez, this trend has helped increase overall tourism 20 percent in the last year. “Each of these facilities is redefining what a parking structure should look like, and each one is pushing the next,” he says. “That translates into architectural tourism.”

It was not always this way. Before the 1980s, when developers like Tony Goldman began restoring Miami Beach’s aging Art Deco splendor, transforming the city from snowbird retreat to beacon of chic, the local population of mostly retirees had little use for cars or places to park them. But with the 1980s gentrification of the hotel strip along Collins Avenue, followed by the retail explosion on Lincoln Road, the demand for parking grew, along with the boom in tourism. In 2002, when Art Basel—the Olympics of the art world—launched its Miami Beach offshoot, it added an art-set sheen to the redeveloped retro gleam, and the grim garages stood out in stark relief.

As the city holds its breath for Hadid, whose early renderings envision a structure to surpass them all, her predecessors have already given the lowly garage new meaning. While the car loses its luster in Detroit, the garage has just begun to glitter, especially in the art world (Russian collector Dasha Zhukova recently launched Garage magazine, named after the Moscow gallery she founded five years ago). And with its five stacked decks that look like a series of looping race car tracks, Hadid’s Collins Park design has put the garage’s renaissance squarely in Miami Beach. “Part of the challenge is to question the full potential of such a structure,” says Hadid. “Considered design can make it an inviting space, one that can even include other functions beyond simply parking.”

Hadid has, in fact, already designed a garage, the Hoenheim-Nord Terminus and Car Park built a decade ago in Strasbourg, France, a project that she says exemplifies “taking what might otherwise be interpreted as an ordinary structure and turning it into something unexpected.” She wants her Miami Beach garage to be an “experience,” to offer the user “a degree of fun” while linking together its surroundings, including the nearby Setai Hotel, W Hotel, Bass Museum of Art and Miami City Ballet. Hadid’s garage will be joining a neighborhood newly known for its cultural landmarks. “The area was kind of begging for one of her works of art,” says Brandi Reddick, communications and artists manager for the Miami-Dade Department of Cultural Affairs.

Miami Beach has always been architecturally iconic, and its garages have been eyesores only of late. Terence Riley, the former head of the Miami Art Museum, points out that architects enthusiastically designed parking structures as recently as the 1950s. According to Wolfsonian-Florida International University Museum director Cathy Leff, engineers only started favoring above-ground parking in the 1960s and ’70s, when developers discovered that these “pedestal” garages were more cost-effective. “For 20 to 30 years garages were the province of parking experts and engineers,” says Riley, “and they became these kind of unattractive, uninspiring, unloved, dingy, dark shoe trees for cars.”

It wasn’t until 1995, when a joint venture of the city and developer Tony Goldman built the Ballet Valet Parking Garage and Retail Center, that the concept of the garage began to revert back again. Ballet Valet, designed by Miami-based Arquitectonica, provided street-level shopping and much needed parking in the lower South Beach area. (The firm currently has another mixed-use retail and parking structure going up on Purdy Avenue.) “Arquitectonica’s garage set the standard for new parking structures in the city,” says Thomas Mooney, design and preservation manager for Miami Beach. At the corner of Seventh Street and Collins Avenue, Ballet Valet uses lush greenery to soften its concrete-box profile. “It was probably the first attempt to deal with the problem of ugly, banal structures proliferating in Miami Beach,” says Leff.

Next came Perkins+Will’s City Hall Annex, Frank Gehry’s garage for the New World Center, home of the New World Symphony, and, most recently, Park@420 from Mexican architect Enrique Norten’s firm, TEN Arquitectos. The pièce de résistance thus far has been Herzog & de Meuron’s open-air 1111 Lincoln Road, where locals and tourists alike not only park but also dine, shop and take yoga classes. It’s in high demand as an events space too—couples even hold wedding receptions there. “The Herzog & de Meuron garage is raising the bar and saying every building should be beautiful, no matter the function,” says Leff.

Though less elaborate than 1111 Lincoln Road, Gehry’s Pennsylvania Avenue garage has brought a certain cachet to the phenomenon, which has led to new commissions, public and private. “A lot of cities are now pushing back, saying, ‘If we’re going to have parking garages, why do they have to be slums for cars?’ ” says Riley.

With construction on Hadid’s garage slated to start by the end of the year, art enthusiasts and city planners are increasingly looking to Miami Beach as an example of how architecture can change expectations. “When people start asking for directions to a parking garage, you realize you’ve elevated a banal structure to something iconic,” says Mooney. Driving down Collins Avenue or walking up Lincoln Road, it’s easy to see how, in Miami, art and retail, function and fashion, have all blended together. Home to the Carlos Zapata–designed Publix Super Market, the city has come to be defined by its inventive take on functional architecture. Similarly, Hadid’s design is all about proving what a garage can be. “We hope it becomes one of many structures that residents and visitors think of proudly as part of their city’s aspirations to look beyond utilitarian conventions,” she says. “We hope that it provokes a different way of looking at something ordinary.”

The Details: Parking Garages

Among the icons of Miami Beach auto-tecture:
Ballet Valet,
630 Collins Ave.; designed by Arquitectonica.
Pennsylvania Avenue garage
, at the New World Center, 500 17th St.; by Gehry Partners.
1111 Lincoln Road
by Herzog & de Meuron.
City Hall Annex,
777 17th St.; by Perkins+Will.
420 Lincoln Rd.; by TEN Arquitectos.