Building Smart for the Future
(University of Houston, East Parking Garage)
By Jacob Gonzalez and Jeremy Rocha
Universities are not solving their parking problems with garages designed for pure efficiency or single usage. Instead, they are taking the “smart” approach – designing for not only the present, but also the unknown future. However, this flexible design concept has become more challenging for the design team to execute due to the move toward the design/build process.
At first glance, the University of Houston’s East Garage may appear to be dropped into an enormous parking lot (Lot 20A), but extensive planning was involved to determine its exact location and orientation. Working in conjunction with the university’s 2006 Campus Framework Plan, the garage site is on the perimeter of campus, with direct access to the Texas 5 Spur off IH 45. This location enables the garage to operate as an identifier for the campus and is a noticeable attraction to those traveling on the freeway.
Its position maximizes the space available between the garage and Calhoun Road (toward the center of campus). This provides future designers flexibility as they wrap the garage with student housing, retail or whatever the university has to come.
The East Garage is a 1,500-space, 475,000-square-foot stand-alone structure. There are no initial plans for future horizontal or vertical expansion, nor is there a plan for future retail within the garage. So, you may ask, “how is it designed for the future, and what made it so challenging?”
The areas directly adjacent to the north and west elevations are designated as future building sites, so this limited vehicle access to the east and south. To maximize the separation between vehicles and patrons, it was only logical to locate the ramps on the east to provide direct access to Spur 5.
To provide balance to the site design, the primary elevator and stair core are located in the southwest corner, providing the shortest walking distance to the school of business and the central campus.
The secondary elevator and stair core are located on the northwest corner for direct access to the future buildings and a pedestrian route that offers the shortest possible walking distance to the college of engineering and law school buildings and Calhoun Lofts, an upscale student housing facility. That provides an ideal spot for the bus drop-off/ pickup zone on the southeast corner of the garage, directly adjacent to the primary elevator and stair core.
The bus zone is in alignment with the university’s Framework Plan for bus routes and stops. It affords not only a great short-term solution but maximum flexibility for future growth.
Providing maximum flexibility was the university’s parking-allocation goal. The design team was required to provide parking for students with their own dedicated access, parking for faculty and staff with their own access, and daily visitor and special event parking. Also, flexibility had to be factored in so that event parking could expand into the student area, in case its 175 allocated spaces were not enough to accommodate larger functions.
The design team also had to develop a parking control plan that would achieve the same balance obtained for the site plan. After some adjustments to the ramp and internal circulation, the solution was pretty straight forward. It resulted in a segregated entrance and exit for the primary user (the students) on the north end of the east elevation, while the faculty/staff and visitors dedicated entrance/exit sat on the south end of the east elevation.
There are 11 lanes of equipment, each dedicated to the following user groups: three dedicated student entrance and two exit lanes; one student/faculty/staff and visitor exit lane; one dedicated faculty/staff and visitor entrance and one exit lanes; one reversible faculty/staff and visitor entrance/exit lane (counts as two lanes of equipment); and one faculty/staff and visitor overflow lane.
The overflow lane allows the ground floor faculty/staff and visitors nested zone to be expanded into the student zone for events or additional parking requirements. The roof can be converted into a nested zone for the adjacent student apartment lofts or for any other segregated zone needed. There are three pay-on-foot machines – two in the primary elevator lobby and one in the secondary lobby.
As a direct result of the planned future growth, the architect was challenged to provide north and west elevation façades that would be cost-effective and flexible, and also support the sustainable-design initiative. The innovative solution was to attach a “green” wall system directly onto the precast panels.
The architectural façade utilized the “kit of parts” concept by attaching the UH “Cougar” red-and-white vertical fiberglass elements along the east and south elevations with the “Shasta” (the university’s mascot) brown precast panels as the backdrop. The structural system is a precast garage (60-by-36-foot bays) with precast façade and a steel frame for the primary elevator and stair core. The shear walls are strategically placed so they will not be in the site line as vehicles turn at the end of aisles.
The biggest challenge for the design team was providing a well-balanced design during the Request for Proposal (RFP) design/build process, before there was an open line of exclusive communication between the university and the designers.
This design had to be completed four weeks after the RFP was issued in a competitive situation, all without a guarantee that the design team would be awarded the project. The design team also was required to provide two creative solutions – one for a 1,000-space garage and one for a 1,500-space garage.
Overall, the garage may seem simply dropped into a sea of parking, but that is an acknowledgment to the University of Houston and the entire design team for developing and executing a plan that not only provides for current needs, but more important, gives flexibility for future needs and plans.
Jacob Gonzalez, P.E., a Principal and Senior Parking Consultant at Walter P Moore, can be contacted at email@example.com. Jeremy Rocha, P.E., a Senior Associate and Senior Parking Consultant at the firm, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Parking Consultant, Civil and Traffic
Engineering – Walter P Moore
Architect – Powers Brown and Associates
Design Builder – E.E. Reed Construction Co.
PARCS – T2 and Magnetic
Article Abstract from June, 2010