Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Book - Rethinking a Lot


Since the early half of the last century the car is a defining aspect of the urban environment. Pre-car urban pattern are obviously different and many scholars and practitioners have since covered the topic of how things have changed.

It is in most parts of Europe no longer as dominant as it was in the 70s as the directing constraint, but is obviously still very much present. Present not only in the way it moved and demands space to move, but cars also occupy space to stop and stand.

Parking lots are required to supply this need for cars to be parked and they area permanent infrastructure taking up space whether in use or unused. little can be combined with these lots and indeed most of the time they sit there empty, just like that, as a tarmaced free space with a few white lines.

Outside Europe in higly car dependant areas, such as the Unites States, Canada, England and increasingly Asia most lots for cars are surface parking. Meaning each building requires a plain surface in immediate proximity the size according to the number of peak time occupants.

What the residence of for example Milton Keynes, UK, know very well from their everyday experience, the perceived density of the urban environment is exceptionally low. This because there is never a feeling of closedness, of held space, because of the constant distance between ones position and the parking lots and between buildings. A list of the largest parking lots was put together by Forbes HERE.




In a new publication this topic of lots and parking is examined in detail from an american perspective in an MIT Press publication by Eran Ben-Joseph in Rethinking a Lot: The Design and Culture of Parking. The author is MIT Professor of Landscape Architecture and Planning and as he explains in the introduction tot he book has ben teaching one of the most famous courses at MIT architecture. The course runs already for over 75 years under the title Site Planning. It has been taught by a hand full of, as Ben-Josephs calls them, luminaries of urban design and city planning, foremost Kevin Lynch, who took over the course in 1956.

Image taken from emspy.com / Car Park and Terminus Strasbourg designed by Zaha Hadid in 1998, completed in 2001.

This for the context of the book. Whilst of course the course covers a whole range of other subjects, the design and arangements of parking lots is only a part of the course. Nevertheless a subject that, as Ben-Joseph stresses, in the US not had a lot of attention.

Indeed it is tricky, thinking on your feet, to come up with a handfull of good lot designs. Probably Hadid's parking design for Car Park and Terminus Strasbourg would be one of them.

Image taken from democraticunderground / To make matters worse, a lot of parking lots are not only pooly designed and landscaped, but also maintained.

The publication is structured in three parts. Whilst the first part covers the topic from todays perspective focusing on problems, questions and requirements, introduced with a quote by J.B Jackson, taken from his Landscape in Sight: Looking at America, but also covering natural aspects. The second part covers the history and the development of parking lots. In the third part practice, design and examples are presented.

Whilst the book design is not extremely exciting, with mix of photograph quality, different styles of sketches and diagrams. its content is fascinating. The creative and playful approach to wording, especially titles and descriptions, for example A Lot in Common, Musing a Lot, Lots of Lifestyles or From Street to Lot, make it a pleasant read. But foremost the depth of research into the topic and the presentation of it in a lot of context and history make it a truly useful addition to your library.

Image taken from MIT / Book front and back cover.


Ben-joseph, E., 2012. Rethinking a Lot: The Design and Culture of Parking, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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