1. How have trends or evolutions in the design process, technological advancements, and/or societal issues inspired new thought and solutions for this building type?
Parking garages are mostly utilitarian in nature and typically not the type of building project that creates a lot of excitement amongst designers and architects. The results are mostly concrete structure with some faux façade treatment and signage to make sure drivers knows where they is going. The car is king, where the driver goes from her car and how she gets to the sidewalk is in most cases not well considered. Unfortunately, in most garages, the solution to this is a dark and uninviting stairwell. If the design of the structure embraces the public realm, however, this does not have to be the case.
The City of Santa Monica Parking Structure #6 is one example of this. It instills a new sense of importance towards our densely populated urban environments, and focuses on the individual and engagement with the public realm. The structure’s red stair, which meanders in and out of the façade, is a deliberate attempt to extend the public sidewalk into the garage. This draws the street environment into the structure itself and allows drivers, bikers, and pedestrians to coexist.
2. What was the most difficult issue(s) or the most unexpected challenge(s) that may have influenced new thought and design parameters in this specific project?
We live in a world and society that is mostly dictated by rules, laws, and expectations. For example, people may have certain expectations of what parking garages ought to look like, rather than what they could be.
As designers, one of the greatest challenges we face is to understand and be in tune with a project without compromising its true nature. Innovations in structural design, building systems, and materials enable us to build almost anything these days. Redefining architecture beyond its structure, functions, material, and aesthetics is the true challenge for us today, as we try to find new meaning at the interface of human interaction with the built form
For this project, it was important for us to reveal the “unexpected” to users while parking, cycling, or walking, inside or outside of the structure. For me, the true value of this is less about the aesthetics and expression of the building, but more so about the building’s attitude triggering a response from the user as he enjoys interacting with the new and unexpected aspects of the structure.
3. Did this project and working on this building type expand or evolve your role as an architect in any way? In general, do you feel that the role of the architect is changing on current projects?
I believe that the role of the architect is not static; it constantly evolves and needs to be redefined many times. We should be in a perpetual state of not only seeking but also defining the next frontier. Every single project is unique with it’s own requirements and challenges. At the outset of every project, it’s essential to define the design challenges and ask critical questions. This is an unpredictable process that must be conducted in a dynamic, open fashion, without injecting preconceived notions into the conversation.
This is the only way a designer can step into new territory, exploring new design possibilities, and create “newness” that helps shape our environments in a fresh and meaningful way. Our inspiration is deliberate and it comes from many places – art, music, dance, light, sound, materials, etc. The final results are often surprising and unexpected, which makes the pursuit of high quality design so inspirational and valuable for us.
4. In the context of this project, how is your office and design process being influenced by current trends in academic curricula and incoming young architects? In turn, how are current projects and new processes guiding the ongoing reformulation and development of academic curricula?
We have seen tremendous advancements in building technology, fabrication processes, even our digital drafting capabilities have helped to shape a much more diverse and exciting range of possibilities in the development of design ideas. Many of these new technologies, such as digital fabrication, computer numerical control (CNC) milling machines, and 3-D printing are being experimented with at many architecture schools and universities.
The development of the façade panels for the Santa Monica Parking Structure #6 would not have been possible without the inclusion of 3-D modeling and modern metal millwork equipment.
As an educator, I see the excitement, which surrounds these technologies, among young students and graduates, many of whom begin their career at our office. Our mentorship approach allows for incoming graduates to continue designing with these new tools and to guide their interest along a real-world project. This is what excites us.