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Designing Parking Garages

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metal construction news, parking garage design, marcy marroParking garages are not usually the most exciting projects, architecturally speaking. But, there are ways to dress them up while still providing the safety, security and fall protection that's required. Architectural metal can provide the durability and aesthetics that owners and architects require when designing parking structures.

By nature, parking garages are a utilitarian structure with functional considerations in the focus, says Leonard Bertaux, AIA, LEED, principal at bertaux + iwerks architects, Boston. "One of the functional considerations is to ensure the exteriors provide good ventilation consistent with code requirements for minimum percentage of free area," he adds.

Parking structure design must balance high functionality and aesthetics, explains Harrison Horan, vice president, Banker Wire, Mukwonago, Wis. "Architects and designers have to create long lasting, properly supported structures that provide fall protection and security, but also allow proper air circulation, visibility and natural light transmission," he says. "Finding materials that fulfill safety, durability and ventilation requirements can present a challenge."

According to Bob Bailey, AIA, CCS, LEED AP, specifications and constructability specialist for Pittsburgh-based IKM Inc., there are three major drivers for parking garage design-efficiency, cost per parking space and aesthetics. "As architects, we're always looking for an aesthetic solution that doesn't say 'big ugly parking garage,'" he says.

Design Continuity

One of the reasons cladding a parking garage can be challenging is that oftentimes they need to share design characteristics with the buildings and communities that surround them. "With that in mind, designers must select materials that are both highly functional and eye-catching," Horan says. "Parking structures challenge designers to meet performance goals, while also achieving aesthetically pleasing designs."

Gary Compton, brand manager at Cambridge Architectural, Cambridge, Md., says the continuity of appearance between the cladding on the outside of a parking structure and with the rest of a complex is an important design element. Architects, he says, are typically looking to dress up the outside of a parking structure to make them more attractive and visually appealing, and it's important to have a design that's incorporated throughout a whole complex.

Wendy DeCapite, sales manager, architectural products at W.S. Tyler, Mentor, Ohio, says they look at garages as important aesthetic pieces of the larger puzzle. "The challenge, however," she says, "is to provide the materials, information and resources so that architects and designers, as well as their clients, view the structures the same way."

Metal products allow architects to have the flexibility to meet any number of functional and design challenges presented by parking structures. The ability to shape, cut, coat or otherwise customize metal products gives it the unique ability to meet all of the needs of the garage without sacrificing performance.

Metal's durability and the variety of products available also make it a good choice for cladding parking structures. "Some metals have the quality of lasting for centuries if not millennia," explains Bailey. "Even with structural steel and its weakness of being a ferrous material, specifying a proper protective coating system can greatly extend its life."

metal construction news, designing parking garage, marcy marroCustom Designs

When designing parking garages, Bertaux notes that his firm has used custom perforated metal wall panels, architectural louvers, custom assemblies of hot rolled sections, as well as a variety of architectural mesh products on wall panels and guards. "We use cast-in metal to assist in attachment of all manner of items from fixtures and railings to complete exterior enclosures," he explains. "In addition, we have used perforated panels and wire mesh panels to provide a sense of enclosure, while at the same time permitting the necessary degree of ventilation required under the building code."

Perforated metal panels can be used to create images on the sides of parking garages. At the Franciscan Medical Building at St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma, Wash., Holland, Mich.-based Dri-Design used its Perforated Imaging technology to create larger-than-life people and images on the outside of the garage. By varying the size, location and density of the perforations, Dri-Design was able to create various areas of light and dark to form an image.

"When using a custom-designed perforation pattern or using perforated imaging, we can create a façade that is extremely visually appealing and conceals the structure while providing the necessary ventilation that is required," explains Jason Zeeff, vice president of sales, Dri-Design.

With customization, Horan adds, "woven wire mesh helps parking garages blend into the surrounding communities. With plating, powder coat, anodizing, or polishing and by playing with the aspect-ratio, we can create a woven wire mesh to accent any design."

Architectural metal mesh fabrics also offer owners and designers unique and aesthetically pleasing options. "Because the solutions are available in a wide range of colors, weaves and openings, creating a distinctive look is possible," DeCapite says. "The painted mesh options are a cost-effective way to add movement and flow to the structure's visual design."

The variety of wire mesh patterns available allow architects to choose how open the mesh is, and how much air and light can pass through, says Compton. "Some architects may want a very, very open mesh," he notes. "Or they may want it a little more closed, just depending on the design and the overall look they are trying to achieve." 

metal construction news, parking garage design, marcy marroFall Protection and Ventilation

Two of the biggest concerns with parking garage design are fall protection and ventilation."Using panels with perforation or open joints can help to secure and conceal a parking structure while still providing the needed ventilation," Zeeff explains.

The inherent strength of woven wire mesh allows it to provide fall protection and security while simultaneously keeping the percent open area high, explains Horan. "Openings in metal fabric provide security through visibility and allow air to circulate-helping to meet the ventilation requirements of parking garages," he says.

Woven wire mesh can be semi-transparent, which Horan notes facilitates light transmission. By providing uninterrupted sight lines, woven wire meshes flexibility allows it to be tensioned across various size openings, following the different shapes and sizes of parking garages. "It can be integrated into virtually any design," he says, "to fill windows, form partitions in multistory openings and create railings."

Dave Carduff, marketing director at Cambridge, Md.-based GKD-USA Inc., explains that GKD's system of fixed top brackets and pivoting intermediate brackets and spring tensioning at the bottom of the metal fabric can accommodate wind loads, seasonal expansion and contraction, and compression loading and unloading as the structure fills and empties of vehicles. "Because of the protective mesh and the lack of need to affix frame work to the structure, the parking structure can be designed more open," he says. "Natural light, fresh air and secure visibility are enhanced. Air handling requirements and total perimeter security are minimized or eliminated."

Advertising and Branding Opportunities

Metal mesh manufacturers have come up with ways for parking garage owners to capitalize on advertising and branding opportunities. For example, W.S. Tyler offers a media façade that combines LED technology with transparent mesh, called IMAGE WEAVE. During the day, DeCapite explains that IMAGE WEAVE gives a parking garage facility an elegant, stainless steel look, while at night, the façade comes to life, providing individually programmed lighting effects in all colors.

Similarly, Mediamesh is a transparent media façade from GKD that allows for advertising and LED media possibilities, such as etching of a logo, name or image. Carduffnotes that Mediamesh is a great choice for high-visibility locations, and allows companies to monetize an entire side of the structure.

Painted stainless steel mesh has become a popular product. "Because it can be used to display logos, graphics or customized scenes, painted mesh meets the dual challenges of security and design," DeCapite says. "Many opt for painted mesh because of its durability and resistance to fading."

LED lighting can also be used to illuminate architectural mesh paneling on parking structures, such as at the Awty International School in Houston. Featuring Cambridge Architectural's Mid-Balance mesh pattern, the exterior is lit up in green LED lights at night, matching the school's colors and providing a branding opportunity for the school.

Unlimited Options

When it comes to cladding a parking garage, architects are only limited by their imagination. At the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Cambridge Architectural designed curved frames to hang both longitudinal and latitudinal curved mesh to create a basket weave façade on the hospital's new parking garage. "It literally looks like a woven basket on the outside of this parking garage, it's absolutely striking," Compton says.

"Metal products provide an attractive, cost-effective alternative in parking structures where concrete materials dominate," says Bertaux. "Metal products can easily accommodate design features including pattern and color to improve the exterior aesthetics, and in many cases, the interior as well."

"Incorporating architectural design mesh into a parking garage design will make your building stand out above the rest," says DeCapite. "Architectural design mesh can take an old parking garage and turn it into something new. Because the mesh is reflective, the seasons will play off the surface and change the appearance of the building daily."