Rice University: A Quiet Blend of Form and Function

When Rice University decided to purchase and install a new parking access and revenue control system, the usual obstacles of a parking project were not their only concern. Rice has to adhere to one of its bedrock principals of architecture for any campus development ... esthetics. The campus environment and ambiance had to be strictly adhered too. The challenge was to achieve a system design and implement it in a way that did not significantly impact the beautification of the campus.
The university was intensely weighing the benefit of migrating from a free, un-gated parking environment to a controlled, gated parking configuration throughout the entire campus. The project was to start with a new underground parking structure for the Jones School of Management. From this point, the concept and system expanded outward to the 20 plus surface lots located throughout campus property. The underground garage design was a critical element in the fact that it provided increased parking with the minimal amount of green space affected. In addition to the primary challenge, Rice faced a skeptical student body, faculty and administration.
Functional goal
The system functionality goal was to create gated parking facilities and provide students and faculty with proximity cards, thus allowing the university to limit parking access to certain user groups and designate specific locations. The conceptual theme was to provide controlled parking to authorized users. Faculty, students and administration alike would be able to find adequate parking in close proximity to corresponding buildings. Visitors and transient parker would have specific paid areas to utilize. This would essentially reconfigure the entire parking operation and provide spaces to the primary users.
Initially, the project was rather simple and straightforward in scale. One entry, one exit and five pay on foot units were all that was required for the new parking structure. However, a much larger project was looming in the background and in the minds of the university's project team -- the Surface Lot Expansion Project. More than 20 surface lots scattered throughout the campus (some over a mile away) had to be controlled by access gates and card readers. This meant that dozens of parking readers and gates would have to be littered throughout the beautiful landscape. The team knew this project would be met with much criticism from the administration and students, but somehow the benefits of controlled parking would have to be integrated and communicated to Rice's parking community.
The task of designing such a system was awarded to Houston-based Kimley-Horn & Associates. They were slated with developing a parking program and system specification that yielded advanced functionality while complying with the aesthetic restrictions. There needed to be a careful balance between form and function.
The question that could be raised is: Sure the system may end up looking good, but how will it operate? The system's design features included: a fiber-optic network; redundant servers; proximity card system for over 10,000 users; database import/export interface between the university's existing database and the parking system's database; independent fiber-optic-based intercom system; credit card in/out features; and online credit card clearing.
The system was installed in a manner that lessened the often obtrusive visual impact parking equipment can have. The careful coordination with landscape architecture cleverly disguised equipment locations and infrastructure. Shrubbery, trees, side road access points, landscape knolls and other techniques proved to be effective methods of maintaining the peaceful surroundings. It is possible to develop, install, and maintain a large scale, fully functional parking revenue and access control system in an environment that demands the highest degree of conformity and beatification.
All said and done, the parking system, which manages over 75 devices, has quietly become one of the largest university parking installations in the country. Rice University can continue to be proud of one of the most beautiful campuses in the country. This unique balance of form and function has been nominated for an award at this year's IPI show.
Rice University selected the SKIDATA revenue and parking access systems. The system was provided and implemented by TCS International.

Article Abstract from April, 2003

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