Will Garages Vanish As Developers Envision A Future Without Drivers?

New ideas are being presented for both the far-away future and the transitional years as society moves towards mass adoption of driverless vehicles. Take Gensler, a company looking for ways to free up space in housing developments by swapping driveways for common storage areas for self-driving vehicles reports the Wall Street Journal.

At the same time, a Reebok and Gensler venture has been exploring options for repurposing gasoline stations in a time when vehicles will recharge at remote stations instead of fueling up. One concept included fitness centers with playgrounds, places to workout, and food markets.

“Today on your way home, you stop at the gas station to fill up,” said Joseph Brancato, a Gensler regional managing principal to the WSJ. The Reebok/Gensler venture sees itself reimagining the properties as places for “recharging human beings” where you “get an additional workout, buy some farm-to-table food and maybe pick up some holistic medicine,” he said.

Architects and real estate developers are envisioning a future without drivers because they are designing streets and infrastructure that will exist one decade from now. They want to make today’s projects flexible in so they can adapt to changing transportation patterns without the need for massive costs and overhauls.

This future-proofing often looks like master-planning entire communities with new methods of creating streets, bike lanes, and other infrastructure.

Take the example of a complex in Shenzhen China designed by Kohn Pederson with an elevated loop that could be set aside for autonomous vehicles and underground parking areas that could be used for retail space or other purposes.

Designs are also being laid for flexible streets and parking plans for Boston’s Seaport development and Sidewalk Toronto, a shared effort by the government and Alphabet Inc.’s Sidewalk Labs.

Architecture firm Perkins + Will are joining the San Francisco Giants in designing streets and buildings well adapted to more curbside pickup and dropoff, and less parking. Apartment buildings are also being designed with more space, including cold storage, to accommodate the flood of Amazon deliveries.

“These projects are beta-testing the autonomous future,” Gerry Tierney, co-director of Perkins + Will’s mobility research lab said to the WSJ.

Parking garages that can be repurposed have already been built. Gensler designed the new Cincinnati headquarters building for 84.51°, a data analytics firm with three floors of above-ground parking that can be transformed into office space.

Gensler also wants to convert parking garage structures into apartments for students, or other people in need of low-cost housing. Brancato said this could be accomplished via modular units that can slide easily into the structure, with backs designed to let natural light in.

“Parking garages are big and deep, and with residential you want as much natural light as you can get,” Brancato said.

Going forward, the expense will be a major roadblock to these convertible parking structures. Many developers don’t like the concept at all because the ceilings must be higher, which means fewer parking spaces.

In the long run, Brancato believes parking conversion can pay off. He said Gensler is studying one convertible project in Denver’s popular RiNo described in the WSJ that would “include 117 spaces per floor, about 17 per floor fewer than if it were built using a conventional design. But if it is eventually converted into office space, the return on investment would be more than 40%, compared with 18%.”

“We’re designing structures that aren’t going to open for another four to five years,” he said. “If people don’t think about these changes, some of them are going to be irrelevant by the time they get built.”