Why We Need Art In Our Car Parks

Car parks. 

They’re everywhere - unassuming holding pens for hundreds of cars. They’re at shopping centres, in the CBD, next to sporting grounds. Essentially anywhere that the masses travel for work or play, there they are. 

Think about all the car parks you’ve been to though. 

They’re all more or less the same, aren’t they?

A level of the Bold Tendencies car park before it’s art make-over. Image Credit:    Bold Tendencies

A level of the Bold Tendencies car park before it’s art make-over. Image Credit: Bold Tendencies

Concrete on concrete. Boxed in layers of gray. Most of them only have paint on the ground for road markings and crossings. If you’re lucky, they’ve used a bit of colour paint, but only out of necessity to mark the levels to help you remember where you parked. But even then, it’s just a dark sea of concrete that I want to leave as soon as I enter. 

And safety! Above ground car parks during the day seem to be okay, there’s usually a bit of sunlight coming through the sides. But as night falls, and in underground car parks especially, that changes. The fluorescent lights create an uneasy mood as you walk through repeating pillars that feel like they’ll never end. It’s not a great feeling, and it’s one that could be easily fixed. 

There’s a lot of reasons to deck out our car parks in public art and site activations, but I think that the main one should be safety. As I’ve said countless times over past blog entries, public art has the potential to be both aesthetic and practical. Gorgeous light installations that brighten the space - it’s a simple fix. Not only do you create a safer, brighter environment, but the mood instantly lifts as visitors have something beautiful to look at each time they come through. It’s regular practice to use reflective paints to maximise the luminosity of car parks, so why not use that paint in a mural designed by a local artist instead of just lining the wall with paint for the sake of it?

The view from the Bold Tendencies rooftop. Image Credit:    Bold Tendencies

The view from the Bold Tendencies rooftop. Image Credit: Bold Tendencies

So many car parks lay vacant overnight. It’s a shame as many have some really spectacular views from their rooftops. It’s just wasted space, right? Well it doesn’t have to be. There are some really easy, short term ways to activate the space, making it more appealing and possibly even a new source of revenue. It could be night markets, pop-up bars, one night art shows, movie screenings - the list is endless! Simply by holding these events, you’re improving the safety of the area, these events deter unwelcomed visitors and populates the car park. 

It’s also a great time to start future proofing. With driverless cars just on the horizon, and more people using public transport to get into the CBD, who knows what will be made of car park infrastructure. Implementing small, short term activations now might mean being ahead of the curve later on down the track.

The Bold Tendencies rooftop bar at sunset in summer. Gorgeous! Image Credit:    Bold Tendencies

The Bold Tendencies rooftop bar at sunset in summer. Gorgeous! Image Credit: Bold Tendencies

Just one possible amazing car park rooftop view. We should be making better use of these! Image Credit:    Bold Tendencies

Just one possible amazing car park rooftop view. We should be making better use of these! Image Credit: Bold Tendencies

The rooftop bar and cafe at Bold Tendencies. Image Credit:    Bold Tendencies

The rooftop bar and cafe at Bold Tendencies. Image Credit: Bold Tendencies

There’s a fantastic initiative over in the UK doing this really well. They’re called Bold Tendencies and they’ve totally taken over a rooftop and a few individual levels of a multi-story carpark. They push a huge range of initiatives including an exhibition run and curated entirely by children, an education program, and a classical music program. They also regularly commission site specific works for the space. The main attraction though is their rooftop bar. A hit in summer with locals and tourists alike, it gives people a chance to soak in those spectacular views I was talking about. 

Over in the United States there’s a program called SCADpad that has developed micro-living apartments that fit in a car space or two - what an amazing Airbnb idea! Maybe you could host morning yoga sessions on your rooftop in summer before the car park gets too busy. Another way to make good use of your rooftop is to set up a community garden! It would be great to have the people who are utilising the car park to take a moment and pause, tending to the garden in the morning and evening on their way to and from work. Melbourne Skyfarm are taking this idea to the extreme by constructing an urban rooftop farm in the heart of the city. Visitors can sample honey made on site, eat at the sustainably run cafe, and enjoy spectacular views of the river. 

A render of the Skyfarm project in Melbourne. Image Credit:    Skyfarm

A render of the Skyfarm project in Melbourne. Image Credit: Skyfarm

If your car park is under ground, don’t fret! Follow in the steps of Bold Tendencies and host your own music program. There’s usually some really incredible acoustics and echoes that happen in a space like that. Community gardens don’t only have to be above ground either. Take lead from La Caverne in the heart of Paris who have set up an underground farm using LED lights and now sell their produce to people working in the area. 

The incredible music program held at Bold Tendencies. Image Credit:    Bold Tendencies

The incredible music program held at Bold Tendencies. Image Credit: Bold Tendencies

The crew at La Caverne with their produce. Image Credit:  La Caverne

The crew at La Caverne with their produce. Image Credit: La Caverne

Alaska Projects is a really innovative example of what can be done in a vacant car park space. Run by Sebastian Goldspink, the gallery space started after his brother saw an unused mechanics office in a car park in Kings Cross in Sydney. Goldspink approached the car park management first, and once they were on board with the project, he approached the City of Sydney, and the rest is history. Since it’s birth in 2011, the gallery has held over 150 exhibitions, eventually closing its doors in December 2018. As an artist run initiative, Alaska Projects’ core objects was to support artists to realise dynamic and innovative work, along with a commitment to diversity in their curation.

Alaska Projects in the heart of Kings Cross. Image Credit:    Alaska Project

Alaska Projects in the heart of Kings Cross. Image Credit: Alaska Project

There are so many great uses for a dormant car park, consult someone like us to steer you in the right direction. What I’ve outlined here is just the tip of the iceberg. Like anything, a little bit of creativity can fix all of these simple problems. Car parks can be dark, unfriendly places, but with a little bit of abstract thinking, they can become blank canvases for a hub of vibrancy and fun. Wins all round!

Samuel McEwen