Sep 11, 2019

A discreetly lighted parking garage finds a home in an upscale community

By Paul Tarricone

The intruder, the gate crasher, the interloper, or, more apropos in this case, the third wheel. In Wayzata, MN, the fear was that the Mill Street parking garage would not mesh with the high-end homes and shops in its surrounding environs. But after an award-winning lighting design by HGA Architects and Engineers, Minneapolis, the garage has proven to be nothing short of the ideal neighbor.

If location is everything in real estate, then the planned site for the covered, one-story parking garage was the first hurdle. Tao Ham, associate vice president, HGA, Minneapolis, explains: “The project had a controversial start. It’s nestled on a hillside with high-end homes on top and elegant boutique shops across the street. Light pollution and an unattractive façade were the neighbors’ main concerns.” With those challenges in mind, the goal was to minimize light pollution, create a hospitable experience and enhance the architectural features of the structure.

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The design solution was to ensure that the lighting literally fit in. “The luminaires are integrated into multiple architecture and landscape details,” says Ham. These range from backlit perforated metal panels, embedded linear LEDs, step lights embedded and concealed in concrete and brick, and light poles mounted on structural columns. All luminaires have 2700K or 3000K LEDs to help the garage further blend into its residential surroundings.

Over the course of the project—from the feasibility study, which wrapped in January 2015, through construction completion in July 2017—the city was extremely protective of its architectural image. “Wayzata has a comprehensive plan to emphasize its unique ‘small town’ character. The city standards seek to preserve the high-quality, small-town environment, while accommodating the inevitability of change. The standards establish detailed requirements on zoning, building character and parking structure specifics, including façade, window and opening design to minimize the visual impact of the parking structure,” notes HGA architect Victor Pechaty. “The HGA design team embraced the city’s standards and outlined design goals to maximize parking, and also address context sensitivity, lake effect, homeowners’ concerns and cost parameters.”

HGA’s approach was to de-emphasize the structure during the day and gently accent it at night. “The design explored scale, architectural character and material use. The eclectic architecture of Wayzata ranges from historic wood-framed Cape Cod structures, masonry and stone civic buildings, to suburban strip architecture at the city’s periphery,” Pechaty explains. “The Mill Street parking structure clads a post-tensioned concrete frame with ironspot brick precast concrete panels. The absorptive quality of dark brick minimizes light reflection and the visual presence of the large structure. Ipe wood slats, recalling the ubiquitous boat docks in the area, provide a visual screen at the lower level.”

To minimize visual impact on the architectural expression, light fixtures for the screen wall and entry portals are concealed in the architectural details, enabling them to “disappear” during the day. At night, the car entry portals have the highest luminance with even lighting by backlit perforated metal panels, while the pedestrian entries are highlighted with more intimate and uneven lighting from bollards and step lights. The wood screen lighting illuminates the street-level parking and highlights wood textures and colors, creating an intimate experience at the street level.

The potential for light trespass from the garage’s rooftop parking deck was a critical design consideration. To combat this, HGA specified 15-ft high light poles that face away from the homes, along with perimeter step lights encased in walls to avoid a direct view of the light sources from residences. The pole heights were evaluated from viewing angles of the adjacent houses and streets so that the poles are not visible from street level. Single-head pole luminaires with full cutoff distributions and sleek appearance were selected to meet the stringent requirements. Structural columns serve as the bases for the light poles. Since no poles were to be placed along the roof perimeter, the step lights embedded in the walls are used to define the edge of the roof parking. “This approach not only eliminated poles along the roof perimeter but also created an intimate lighting quality in the residential setting,” says Ham.

Safety and security likewise factored into the design process. Illuminated surfaces, a luminance hierarchy and defined boundaries—“not footcandles alone”—says Ham, “have powerful impacts on a sense of brightness, orientation and safety. Applying the principles of luminance perception in a night environment, the project was designed with the lowest light levels recommended by the IES. The approach produced an outcome that is aesthetically pleasing without sacrificing a sense of orientation and safety. Where security cameras were installed, the lighting goals were to achieve higher uniformity and balance brightness in the views of the cameras to reduce the need of higher illuminance.” Now ensconced between homes and shops, the Mill Street structure is no run-of-the-mill parking garage.


Paul Tarricone

Paul Tarricone

Paul Tarricone has more 25 years of experience in association and business-to-business publishing, specializing in the engineering, design, construction and facilities management markets. Mr. Tarricone currently serves as Editor and Publisher of Lighting Design + Application,... More info »