The pick of parking architecture, Vol 1: Marina City, Chicago (1962)

We have used photos of this car park in our website and other marketing material for a while now so we thought it worthwhile to give you some information and details regarding the car park and the development that it belongs to.

The complex, dating back to the early 60’s, is called Marina City and is made up of five buildings on a site comprising a whole city block on State Street facing the north bank of the Chicago River.

This is how its architect, Bertrand Goldberg, described it (1):
“The buildings consist of a commercial platform constructed of concrete post and beam system which covers the entire three acres of property. This lower building contains of the going and the coming – the commerce, the health club, the package room, the lobby, the restaurant, the marina for the storage of 700 boats, and indeed the boat slips themselves with the water penetrating 75 feet into the interior of the building. The second and third buildings are the residential towers built of concrete around cores 35′ diameter and 600′ high surmounting the garage by 20 stories. The fourth building is the theatre building with a catenary roof stretched on a concrete frame. This is the Marina City Center – the building which will attract the immediate attention of the pedestrian. And, finally, the fifth building is the office block constructed on bearing concrete mullions which form a background and a fence to mark off the end of Marina City and protect Marina City from the inroads of the yet undeveloped areas to the north.”

Colloquially known as the “corncob towers”, each of them comprises 40 levels of apartments over 19 levels of car parking. Simon Henley, in “The Architecture of Parking” (Thames & Hudson, 2007) describes the parking component of the development:
“…the parking decks describe a simple circle, with spaces for 32 cars for each rotation and a total of 450 in each tower. Cars park radially around the perimeter, apparently enjoying the same views as their owners, many floors above. Most remarkable is the 1km journey that the motorist makes from street level to the 19th level driving perilously close to a precipitous edge, steering wheel in a fixed lock.”

The corkscrew concept is somewhat reminiscent of the Sydney Opera House Car Park in the use of parking on ramped circular floors.
The Marina Centre is a great example of a mixed use development within a city environment and the car park design is certainly one of the most unique – that’s why pictures of it are so ubiquitous and therefore worthy of greater appreciation!

(1) Bertrand Goldberg’s speech about Marina City as presented at the seminar on “Architectural Aspects of Edmonton Civic Centre Plan,” Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. September 27, 1959

Source: The Architecture of Parking, Simon Henley, Thames and Hudson

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