Saint Joseph's University Parking Garage
Architectural Precast Elements:
12 ft-wide non-load bearing precast wall panels.
Garage as Gateway
College and university campus parking garages are often selected for thoughtful aesthetic treatments. As part of an ongoing campus expansion, project leaders embraced the notion of this new garage as a gateway to the school. Planners, staff and the university president worked closely with the design team to make the building a transitional area that relates well to the university’s collegiate gothic revival reference.
The genesis of the garage design is a nearby 80-year-old gothic structure built by a nationally-renowned contractor, and which is the most recognized building on campus and a prominent city landmark featuring a 150-foot bell tower topped with four spires. Gargoyles and grotesques, some of them comical, mark the building’s quadrangle alongside pointed arch windows. Pedestrians are treated to stone-lined exterior walkways with brick groin vaults.
The design team wanted to honor and interpret this rich architectural tradition, and chose a precast structure to fulfill their vision. Precast was the team’s first choice because it gave them more flexibility than cast-in-place, and because they thought it was the best, most economical system in terms of initial cost and long-term maintenance.
An Inspired Design
The six-story, 135,000 square foot garage was constructed along with two dormitories across the street from the main campus, replacing an older retail and office building. The presence of residential neighbors on the back side of the garage was an important influence on its size and height. A visual buffer of tree plantings and a new masonry wall respect the boundary with these neighbors.
On the front side of the building, first floor retail space includes the university bookstore, a coffee shop and a restaurant, creating destination and contributing to the area’s walkability. Rather than placing a standard entrance on street level, the design team pushed for an arcade on one end leading to an elevator lobby. The arcade adds pop to the garage, and makes it a much more pleasant and welcoming place. A glass stair tower increases the safety of garage patrons.
Stone features and wood infill lend richness to the store fronts. The façade is finished in thin brick that was cast into the 12’-wide non-load bearing precast wall panels. The team felt that thin brick was very effective as an architectural finish, capturing the solidity and human scale of the more significant campus buildings. Near the top of the building the team formed decorative copings and a shield into the precast.
Expressive grillwork provides structured verticality and mass appropriate for the garage’s urban setting. It also hides the slope of the ramp inside while keeping the garage an open air structure that doesn’t need supplementary ventilation. The grillwork on the front terminates in a horizontal precast spandrel, while on the top metal trim forms nested lancets reiterating the gothic theme.
As part of the project, the streetscape in front of the garage received new paving, street lighting and trees. Red awnings and banners on the upper building face reinforce the storefronts. Carefully placed lighting draws attention to the banners, storefronts and architectural features to establish an attractive nighttime image while increasing visibility and safety.
The design team notes that the building holds together because of the quality of the precast features, and that it was much more economical to create architectural features with a combination of precast elements and brick- and stone-faced precast than with hand-built masonry. An additional consideration in choosing precast for the project was speed of erection – the design team values the fact that precast goes up quickly and allows earlier occupancy than other construction methods.
Accessed electronically, the garage offers students 442 new 90º front-in spaces via two-way drive lanes. Fans may park in it during university basketball games.
From the standpoint of sustainable design, the addition of structured parking does away with several surface parking lots on the main campus. The lots are being replaced with landscaped lawns and walkways, helping to reduce the urban heat island effect and improve the quality of the campus experience.
Parking garages can be the first and last building people experience on a university campus, or any facility for that matter. Through their appreciation of the garage as a gateway, the university has ensured that those who park in their new garage will form a positive and lasting impression of the school.