House of Cars: 8 Stunning Parking Structure Designs

These architects helped to elevate a traditionally humble building typology.

Sheila Kim Sheila Kim

Ever since Miami’s 1111 Lincoln Road, designed by Herzog and de Meuron, put the parking structure on the architectural map, there’s been a steady stream of other projects that elevate the lowly building type. They may not be hosting wedding ceremonies and dinners as 1111 Lincoln Road has, but they still have the visual chops to delight, shock or surprise. We take a look at eight parking structures that are also capable of engaging passersby in dialogue and the key material palettes their architects used. (And you’ll be surprised to know that some of these gems were pre-Lincoln Road.)

Santa Monica Civic Center Parking Structure by Moore Ruble Yudell, Santa Monica, California, United States (2007)

The architects attempted to create an easily identifiable marker within the civic center, and they certainly accomplished that. The striking façade consists of ribbed concrete panels installed in a shifting pattern and tinted channel glass that provides bursts of color and light-play throughout the day and into the night. The first parking structure to achieve LEED certification, the project made use of materials with ample recycled content such as fly-ash replacement for cement and steel — along with photovoltaic panels on the roof to generate a significant portion of the structure’s energy source.

de Cope by JHK Architecten, Utrecht, the Netherlands (2008)

Designed as a pair of volumes connected by crossways, this project consists of offices in one building and garage facilities in the other with a unifying exterior aesthetic: gold-colored, perforated aluminum-composite panels clad both structures (save for the open-air spiral drive ramp). The architects specified the panels with concave arches and in different perforation patterns so that, when installed in a staggered, alternating fashion, the structures have a woven appearance.

© Burg+Schuh / palladium.de; Sander Copier

Car Park One at Chesapeake by Elliott + Associates Architects, Oklahoma City, United States (2008)

On the outside, this gleaming white structure sports staggered metal panels that both screen the cars and provide ample ventilation but also match the adjoining office building’s aesthetic.

Scott MacDonald, Hedrich Blessing

The actual parking facility, however, holds the visual surprise. Colored lights (a different hue for each level) function as an elegant way-finding tool. Lighting in stairwell walls and simple painted bands on the inside of trusses sparingly and tastefully reinforce the color-coding.

Scott MacDonald, Hedrich Blessing

Gnome Parking Garage by Mei Architects and Planners, Almere, the Netherlands (2010)
From a distance, one can make out that there are reliefs emblazoned in the façade of this structure. Hieroglyphs they are not. Instead, they are motifs associated with the province such as birds, windmills and garden gnomes. The architects used perforated metal panels that are thermoformed with the images.

Jeroen Musch, Mei architecten en stedenbouwers

Festspielgarage Erl by Kleboth Lindinger Dollnig, Mühlgraben, Austria (2012)

Serving the Tyrolean festival site’s music venues, this three-story parking structure was quite ingeniously built right into a sloping hillside to allow access to each level through different points of the hill. As a result, the architects eliminated interior ramps and, in turn, increased the number of parking spaces. And on the roof of the structure, grass is extended and accessible to pedestrians, as if to suggest that the structure is part of the hill itself.

Günter R. Wett

Its most noticeable design features are cross-bracing concrete columns and pops of orange and white paint on the interior (the color blocking marks parking spots). Steel mesh wraps the perimeter for safety while still preserving views in and out.

Günter R. Wett

City of Santa Monica Public Parking Structure #6 by Behnisch Architekten Santa Monica, California, United States (2013)

Located in a part of downtown Santa Monica known for several major tourist destinations, this public parking garage features an “exposed” circulation path that weaves in and out of the structure’s façade. The bold exterior diagonal stair not only ensures safety with its visibility but also provides some excellent ocean views. Metal panels attached to the structure’s perforated screen are folded and angled strategically to allow in ample light and ventilation without overheating. These panels are finished in fruity, vibrant colors to further animate the façade.

May / September by Urbana Studio Eskenazi Hospital Parking Structure, Indianapolis, United States (2014)

Really an art installation on the façade of an HOK-designed parking structure that was already built, May / September (also shown at top) boasts a mesmerizing effect created not by moving parts, but, instead, viewer movement. Architect Rob Ley, founding principal of Urbana Studio, devised a plan to use 6,500 varied-size, fixed aluminum panels folded at three different angles (20, 40 and 60 degrees).

The units are painted bright yellow on one side and an almost-black blue on the other. He then turned to Rhino 3D to map out the panel configuration and placement. The flaps were attached to 50 aluminum-tube frames before being installed on the parking structure.

As cyclists, motorists or pedestrians pass by the installation, depending on which direction they’re coming from, the work shifts organically from one color to the other.

City View Garage by Leong Leong and IwamotoScott Architecture, Miami, United States (2014 and 2015)

There are two eye-catching corners on this Design District garage, each completed by a different architect. On the western façade, Leong Leong created a shimmering skin of gold-tinted, titanium-coated stainless steel that sports curvilinear cuts and folds.


Leong Leong façade; photography by Naho Kubota

Meanwhile, the main corner features IwamotoScott’s design, a digitally fabricated, modulated aluminum screen with five different aperture sizes and a color gradient.

IwamotoScott façade; photography by A. Zahner, Daniel Balean, ROBIN HILL, Craig SCott, ISAR, Craig Scott, Tex Zernigan

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