Is Your Parking Facility a Trailer Towed by a Ferrari?
Do you have a beautiful building and a “Plain Jane” Garage?
By Kevin Warwood
In turning on my computer first thing in the morning, my coffee and I have a Google news page to greet us. On that page are two headings: Parking and Hospital Parking.
On the Parking page, I see lots of new products and concepts, great designs obviously done by clever people with vision. I see computer programs that have wonderful graphics and the latest parking machines with the look and shape of a Victoria Secrets model.
I see an assortment of ideas transformed into visions of the future, which are purchased or used today. They capture my imagination and transport me to wherever the designer or artist wants me to go.
By contrast, on the Hospital Parking page, I see a lot of articles about new carpark buildings being built and the constant complaints about the need to get a hold of the parking load around hospitals – unfortunately a sign of the times.
I see square, severe and harsh buildings built for function, some enclothed in materials designed to hide the fact that these are square, severe and harsh buildings. You would think carpark building design would be able to link into modern design streams and thinking, that harmonize and complement the operations or use of the place of business attached.
Could you imagine Brigham and Women’s Hospital, with a concierge and 300 thread-count sheets, being attached to a square-cornered building that would frighten the daylights out of someone by looking at it, as much as their upcoming operation?
Gee, isn’t it time that designers and architects made carpark building important, not just functional?
Treating customers well, and having well-designed engagement with them, is a “touch-point” approach. Engagement with customers is beneficial, as there is some preparation of the customer before they enter the premises, resulting in having them open-minded and relaxed.
You could call it customer grooming. Having touch-points is well understood by many industries, and they benefit
by having the customers prepped for them.
Airports are a good case in point. The customer is “groomed” for a journey through the duty-free area, hoping they spend more money.
Rachel Walton, an interior designer here in Christchurch, New Zealand, said that “when developing the touch-points, your key user groups need to be understood. Using a touch-point approach will make a fundamental difference to the user of that particular carpark and their experience of it.”
There is a close parallel to carpark building design in aircraft design. The outside of modern passenger jets are all pretty much the same. It’s a fuselage with wings and a tail. Even modern inner-space travel-capable aircraft might just have winglets and no tail, but the fuselage is still there.
They may even be a different color and have a motif or design so it stands out from the crowd, just like the outside of a carpark building
might have modern masking materials to hide its true nature. It’s still an aircraft ... or a carpark building.
But that is where the similarities end. On the inside of an aircraft, the furnishings and functional features are the result of millions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of hours spent on understanding shape, color, light and shade, and especially how this affects the human mind, while sitting cooped up in a stressful situation.
The interior of an aircraft is that color for a reason. It has rounded corners and smooth curves for a reason. It’s all designed to make you feel more comfortable and relaxed, and to make the cabin look bigger than it actually is.
On the other hand, the interior of a carpark is a mottled collection of gray, yellow, and very sharp shapes all designed to be as functional and utilitarian as a factory from George Orwell’s “1984.” Very few carparks are built with the interior in mind, even those that look stunning on the outside. And even fewer are built with the purpose of grooming customers, clients and people, for a building activity, with the same attention to mental state as a modern aircraft does.
So why the difference between the two? I suspect that the learned folk at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in LA or Gleneagles Hospital in Singapore understand that having the best equipment and spending money on the very best research into hospital room design is a natural progression for improvement of the patient’s well-being.
They probably measure it! They probably recognize that the patient and visitor spend far more time in a hospital room than in a carpark building, and that would be a legitimate understanding. So they would never think to ask an architect about methods of entry into a modern hospital or proposed building, from a carpark or patient grooming.
The architect would not think to ask the hospital staff about how patients pass through to their hospital and the effect it might have on them. They may never think about the anxiety that driving into a gray square building might create and the benefits that a well-designed parking facility might endow on a user.
Hospital folk are successful people with bright minds and have spent a long time studying in their fields of knowledge. Very few of them would even contemplate how a simple carpark building might positively affect their patients, even in the most modest way. But shouldn’t they at least try?
Ross Webb of Worldwide Parking, a carpark construction company, described a carpark building as “an oasis.” He is right.
“A modern building should have 2.5m bays, an aisle width of at least 5m, no columns in the bays or aisles. It shouldn’t have a visual cacophony of advertising, flashing lights and glaring spotlights,” Webb said. “It should have no dark corners, and it should be painted a light color to enhance spaciousness, and it would help if it was kept clean.
“Design reflects the attitudes and lifestyles of the locals,” Webb said. What it does do is show how important they think you are as a user of the carpark – purely profit-driven or a client that is groomed or stage-managed prior to entry.
Carparks are seen as having functional responsibilities. It’s like saying the hospital is a Ferrari and the carpark is a trailer being towed along behind it – functional, purposeful but adding nothing to the feeling that being inside a Ferrari gives you.
Modern carpark design concepts need to consider the user of the carpark. Are the customers active or old and infirm? Are they there for a purpose? Are they staying a long time? Are there many users, or is it strictly for one type of customer? Are the users heading into a stressful situation and need calming before they go in? Could the users benefit from modern guidance systems, ANPR, active lighting systems, friendly curves and shapes, happy or relaxing tones and colors?
Walton, the interior designer, said, “What about a simple contemporary service such as booking a carpark online? We can now pre-book carpark spaces and pre-book seats when we fly anywhere. But what about for a hospital, could you pre-book your parking with your appointment at the hospital, and you get your space allocated for the appropriate length of time as part of the overall process?
I suspect that these design considerations – that is, enhancing the feeling that each stage of the journey is a so-called touch-point – would go a long way to making the hospital or building a great place to visit.
Treating the activity as a touch-point means the customer is being taken seriously and the business will benefit from that. So it might be time to demand that carpark buildings are set up so you can touch your customers.
You never know; they might like it!
Kevin Warwood is a Parking Consultant and Blogger (at www.parkingithere.blogspot.com) based in New Zealand.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Article Abstract from August, 2013