Few building types receive less architectural attention than the lowly parking garage. While there are some high-design exceptions—Paul Rudolph’s 1962 Temple Street Parking Garage in New Haven, Connecticut and Herzog & de Meuron’s recent 1111 Lincoln Road garage in Miami Beach are two—the vast majority of garages are at best anonymous and utilitarian.
Toronto’s first attempt at parking with style was a pair of garages at 29 Temperance Street and Dundas Square, designed by John B. Parkin Associates for the Parking Authority of Toronto and opened in 1957. To maximize car capacity on the constricted sites, the garages featured then-novel mechanical parking systems. Rather than circling around a series of ramps, drivers simply entered the garage, stopped on a hydraulic elevator platform and exited their vehicles. An attendant then raised the car to its allotted bay and slipped it into place. The clean, rectilinear lines of the Parkin garages belied the tailfinned automobiles housed within: black steel railings and window frames crisply contrasted with the pristine white concrete structures, the solids and voids creating a dynamic three-dimensional effect of advancing and receding planes. The Dundas Square garage received an honourable mention in the 1958 Massey Medals for Architecture competition and both were published in the 1961 book New Buildings in The Commonwealth.
Unfortunately, despite their Tomorrowland promise, the garages were operational disasters. The lifts were unable to keep pace with the volumes of cars during the morning and evening rush hours, causing lengthy backups, and the salty slush and freezing temperatures of Toronto winters led to premature wear and chronic breakdowns of the mechanical and hydraulic systems. Both garages were demolished in the mid-1960s after less than a decade of service.
Although common in Europe for decades, mechanical and automated parking systems have been rare in North America. But they are increasingly finding favour for condominium buildings in Toronto as well as New York, Chicago and other space-challenged cities, suggesting that pushbutton parking may be coming soon to a garage near you—if it hasn’t already.