Urbanism Next
University of OregonUniversity of Oregon

Parking Retrofits

Existing parking space represents millions of acres of land and building area for redevelopment, after demand decreases.
Aerial view of parking lot next to building

Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash

Reduced demand for parking in our urban centers will open up parking lots and garages for new uses. Parking structures and surface lots are not often built with future flexibility in mind, but due to their heavy structure and embodied carbon, adaptive reuse is a more sustainable approach to their redevelopment. Some of the biggest challenges to redevelopment are low floor-to-floor heights, sloped floors, deep floor plates, and utility service.

Issues & approaches

Remove parking from buildings: Since parking needs are likely to change in response to emerging technologies, separating parking from buildings is another way of extending the longevity of existing structures. Locating parking separately instead of placing it underground or structuring it within the building can help to avoid the limitations of having an integrated space that hinders the overall potential utility of the building long term. 

Design parking for recyclability: The cost to adapt existing parking structures is often too high for developers to justify. Assuming that parking demand will decrease, designing parking structures with disassembly and recyclability in mind will reduce carbon impact and waste.

Utilizing mechanical parking structures: Vehicle stacking is a more efficient space option and can open up space for other uses. Some parking will likely be retained in the future, even as demand decreases, so using stackable vehicle lifts is one option for minimizing its impacts.

Return on investment is key for adaptation: Adaptation usually only makes sense in situations where there is anticipation of future expansion over a long period, in order for it to pay off. This is usually the case with institutions like hospitals and universities that will grow over time and have an incentive to landbank.

AV Parking structures: AV fleets will need areas to park and charge their vehicles. Existing parking structures could easily be adapted to AV fleet storage. The number of vehicles able to be parked could increase with adaptable parking structures for autonomous vehicles.

Consider limiting features: Limiting features, such as low floor-to-floor heights and internal ramps should be addressed. Current parking structures may have a variety of features that prevent them from being easily repurposed into other uses beyond parking. Some of the most common obstructions are more evident with the introduction of the AV, without the need for walking spaces, egress stairs, and drives, and the ability for the vehicles to park more compactly and in deeper rows.

COVID-19 response and tactical urbanism: During the COVID-19 pandemic, cities across the globe adopted tactical urbanism approaches to transform the public realm into spaces for restaurant diners and retail extensions. These rapid changes have proved that the right-of-way, on-street parking, and off-street parking can be retrofitted to highlight public space

Examples/case studies

Adaptive Reuse - Parking Structure

Northwestern University Garage

View - Gensler

This project by Gensler in Evanston, Illinois repurposed an existing parking garage into a flexible work environment, incorporating some of the former garage’s features in the new space.

Adaptive Reuse - Parking Structure

Broadway Autopark

View - Sheldon Architecture

Sheldon Architecture repurposed this parking structure in downtown Wichita, Kansas to include ground-floor retail with housing on the upper floors.

Adaptive Reuse - Parking Lot to Walkable Housing Community

Thornton Place, Seattle, WA

View - MITHUN Architecture + SvR Civil

In Seattle, architects at MITHUN Architecture and SvR Civil collaborated on this project to convert a mall parking lot into a park and walkable community.

Related topics

Parking & Building Design

What opportunities exist for the spaces in and around buildings that are currently devoted to parking?

Flexible Parking Design

Designing parking with future changes in mind will give more options for accommodating future uses.

Autonomous Vehicles

From self-driving cars to fully autonomous freighter fleets, AVs could transform the transportation of people and goods.

See something that should be here that isn't? Have a suggestion to make?

Please let us know