by Austin Holt
The Savannah College of Art and Design has a campus in Atlanta. It’s much smaller than the total floor plan of the sprawling, city-wide campus in the school’s namesake headquarter city, but it’s a thoroughly capable satellite that provides a distinctive creative voice to a region becoming increasingly renowned for its aesthetic abilities.
That being said, if you’ve never been to the parking deck at SCAD Atlanta, you owe yourself the trip. Aside from the occasional mural on the walls, the structure itself is nothing special. It’s a typical, several-storied concrete slab garage. A place for cars to stay. But man, oh man, what a view.
The skyline spreads like a postcard panorama, and when the sun touches down over the western horizon, the glass and steel superstructures of Midtown catch on fire in the reflecting rays as the ceaseless flow of cars from two interstates merge, almost meditatively, into one river of traffic far below. This parking garage probably has one of the best views in the whole city.
Parking garages across the country are reaching a crisis point. Vertical storage for vehicles is a logical solution to cramped city parking. But in recent years, as more people actually move into the cores of cities, and as car traffic slowly declines with the decrease in demand for personal transportation, the utility of the venerable old parking deck is becoming gradually less apparent. There are a little over 100 million parking spaces in America — about five for every car on the road. Even in auto-reliant Atlanta, the numbers don’t lie: SCAD’s parking garage, for instance, rarely experiences an occupancy of over 50 percent. That’s a lot of unused space.
So SCAD, of course, got creative. The way things are going, they thought, it’s very possible that the parking garage of 2050 could be as much of a blemish on the cityscape as abandoned factory stacks were in 1990. Thinking to the future, SCAD launched an experimental pilot program called SCADPad, wherein a series of ultra-minimalistic, hyper-modern micro apartments were erected on the footprints of single parking spaces.
Cast away the idea of tightly packed row homes, devoid of natural light, like some drab, concrete spaceship. These apartments had gardens, courtyards and common areas where people could gather for a cocktail after work. There were trendy chairs and funky light fixtures, and everything was controlled by iPads. The shape of things to come, in the form of a town, inside of a building that people used to wish wasn’t there. Yes, after the initial shock of the concept, the notion hits you with a kind of futuristic glee: this place would actually be a lot of fun to hang your hat.
And with that, your neighborhood — the community literally outside your door — is located on the fourth floor of a stack of disused parking spots. In a way, this idea, as absurd as it may seem at the outset, follows the return swing of the pendulum, the continuation of the contraction, perfectly. Ranch homes in cul-de-sacs are exchanged for condos in high-rises, which are swapped for open floor plans in an old factory, which, in turn, is transformed into a want for micro-homes located where people used to keep their cars while they were at work. A case study in urban selection.