Why are so many multi-storey car parks so ugly, a triumph of brutal concrete, designed to be as cheap as possible, with excessively tight ramps and small parking spaces?
In Miami’s developing Design District, there is a parking garage with a difference. Perhaps it helps that this area, formerly one of old warehouses, is developing as the Miami Design District, with the latest in art, design and architecture, including several contemporary art galleries and smart designers such as Gucci moving in. The seven storey Museum Garage (in which it is relatively inexpensive to park) has capacity for 800 vehicles in what inside is a fairly standard layout for Miami, spacious, safe, well-lit and clean.
Of course, when we arrived to park we did not really see the outside; it was only later when we left as pedestrians to explore the area that we saw what an artistic triumph it is. The innovative and enterprising developer Craig Robins commissioned architect and curator Terence Riley and his architectural firm K/R to develop a new concept for the garage which serves the two major art museums opposite and also the shopping outlets in the streets around it.
Riley took inspiration from a French Surrealist parlour game, Exquisite Corpse (Cadavre Exquis) where several artists produce images that connect with each other without them knowing what their neighbouring artists are producing. A game of artistic chance, and here WORKac, J. Mayer H., Clavel Arquitectos and Nicolas Buffe, along with Riley’s own architectural firm K/R (Keenen/Riley) did exactly that, each having been allocated their own stretch of façade. The result is an astonishing work of art, a modern version of the Exquisite Corpse parlour game and, although the four different designs look entirely different, the façade is long enough that it all works, especially as the main length faces the new buildings of the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) Miami and the de la Cruz Collection.
At the corner it is difficult to see where WORKac’s ‘Ant Farm’ ends and J.MAYER.H.’s façade starts. WORKac’s façade has opportunites that the others do not have as behind it, like in an art colony, are different uses – a garden, a library, art space, and playground, with their circulation spaces appearing and disappearing like those in an ant colony behind the street art image ’Dippin’ from Jamian Juliano-Villania.
Turning the corner, the facades have colourful curving interconnecting puzzle pieces, XOX (Hugs & Kisses), a Japanese cartoon-like theatrical façade supported by contemporary caryatids, ‘Urban Jam’ – car bodies recycled and now parked vertically to gain a new life in a work of art -, and ‘Barricades’ a modern interpretation of the multiplicity of traffic barriers that fill the city, but with planters punching through. There is also bespoke lighting designed by the London firm of Spiers
The scheme will eventually be mixed use as tenants move in to the retail units along the street, along with the other public spaces behind the ‘Ant Farm’. And the good news for London is that the specialist lighting, which is probably not appreciated until nightfall was designed by the London firm Spiers & Major Associates.
It’s great fun, but can you imagine UK planning authorities allowing such imagination? It takes the unique circumstances of the transformation of this area of Miami and the focus on design and innovation, but why should the rest of us have to put up with boring concrete monstrosities for car parks?