There are two basic schools of thought regarding the design of parking garages. The first could be said to be the "honesty first" approach. Cars have minimal physical needs in terms of shelter, and no sense of aesthetics. The best garages, therefore, are like really big closets: we don't expect them to be beautiful - just an efficient place to store out stuff. In architecture, the homely, if frankly presented, can even gain our admiration. A good example would be Harry Weese's parking garage on South Federal, next to his striking Chicago Metropolitan Correctional Center, where he gives absolute minimalism his highly personal stamp. Bad examples, alas, abound, such as the huge and stupid garage behind 900 North Michigan, and the podium of just about any "plop architecture" condo tower you can name.
The second could be named the "silk purse" approach. A prime example would be Stanley Tigerman's witty self park on east Lake Street, but the variations are endless. At DeStefano+Partners' One South Dearborn, the cladding over the garage is lightened by a series of six-story high vertical glass louvers along Madison. Often, the ramp, itself, becomes the ornament countering the severity of the garage proper. Think of the spiral ramp at the John Hancock Building that provides a bravura counterpoint to the expressionless dead windows of the garage floors. At James Goettsch's 111 S. Wacker, the bottom of the ramp becomes a sculptural element in the ceiling of the lobby. At Ralph Johnson's Contemporaine, the exposed ramp becomes a stage set bit of urban theater.
The garage for Solomon Cordwell Buenz's new condo tower, The Streeter,
on east Grand right next to another Harry Weese classic, the former Time-Life Building, may not be the same league, but it's a graceful solution. The structure is essentially a smaller bustle to the main building, and its' clad in two different tones of glass, tending toward turquoise along Grand, and a sea green along its eastern facade. Unlike the tower, where it's an insistently expressed grid of spandrels and mullions, the curtain wall on the garage reads as continous bands of glass along each floor, each topped out by white spandrel and/or short strip of clerestory windows. It provides a bright counterpoint to the warm Cor-Ten tones of its strong-boned neighbor to the west.