Architects take the design of public parking to a whole new level in Wayzata, Minnesota

By Joel Hoekstra

The City of Wayzata, located a dozen miles west of Minneapolis on Lake Minnetonka, has always been a popular destination. A century ago, visitors from the Twin Cities and more distant places arrived by train, eager to indulge in the pleasures of swimming, fishing, boating, and strolling at the lake. Today, the tony restaurants, bakeries, boutiques, and workout studios along Lake Street, the town’s main thoroughfare, draw crowds that mostly arrive by car, truck, or SUV.

The result, until recently, was congestion—and a parking problem. Street parking was limited, and the available surface lots were few and sometimes crumbling. In search of a solution to the parking shortage, city officials began exploring the possibility of adding a parking ramp on Mill Street, a block north of Lake Street. But a plan to erect a three-story structure on Mill Street quickly ran into opposition. “Wayzata likes its small-town scale,” says Jeff Thomson, the city’s director of planning and building. “There was a general concern that this large parking ramp would be out of scale with the developments around it.”

The project seemed to be at an impasse until Minneapolis-based HGA Architects and Engineers facilitated a charrette suggesting some alternative solutions. What ultimately emerged was a design that was more elegant and compact than anyone had imagined it could be.

Initially, city officials hoped to build a pedestrian plaza alongside the structure, a place where farmer’s markets and street festivals could be staged. But that idea was complicated by the fact that many businesses had service entrances on Mill Street. HGA proposed a new scenario: If the space reserved for the plaza were used to enlarge the surface area for parking, the upper parking tier could be removed. Public opinion quickly coalesced around that approach.

The 385-stall structure was completed last summer. “Essentially, it’s a single parking tray above a surface lot,” says HGA principal Victor Pechaty, AIA. Clad in sections of dark-gray brick, the exterior contrasts with the lighter-stone and buff-colored buildings along Lake Street. The entrances to the lower level are lined with perforated-metal screens backlit by LEDs, giving drivers a clear sense of navigation even in the dead of night. Because the structure is built into a slope, HGA was able to give the upper level its own entry, off a side street. The omission of a ramp between levels freed up space for additional stalls.

Ventilation and security are often issues in parking ramps. HGA addressed both by making the lower level somewhat porous: Openings in the walls allow exhaust to exit the building without mechanical interventions, while also allowing view and acoustical porosity as safety measures. Wood slats installed in the voids only partly block the view in and out. “The slatted wood aesthetic is reminiscent of the ubiquitous boat docks you see on Lake Minnetonka,” says Pechaty.

For the most part, the structure was designed to recede into the downtown environment. The architects kept lighting on the second level low to the ground, and they angled it in a way that minimizes light pollution for the residences on the hill above. But the building couldn’t be invisible. The design places pedestrian entrances and staircases where they can easily be seen through visual corridors from Lake Street. Finding your way back to your car is intuitive.

“The project achieved all of our objectives,” says Thomson. “We more than doubled the available parking on the site, and what’s more, the design hit it out of the ballpark.”

Location: Wayzata, Minnesota
Client: City of Wayzata
Architect and landscape architect: HGA Architects and Engineers
Principal-in-charge: Mia Blanchett, AIA
Project lead designer: Victor Pechaty, AIA
General contractor: Adolfson & Peterson Construction
Size: 91,840 square feet (385 spaces)
Cost: $8.7 million
Completion: July 2017
Photographer: Pete Sieger

“This is what design is all about: Taking a mundane program and making something so much more with it. We loved everything about this project, right down to how that stair negotiates the corner with the massing, and the use of the broken rocks around the edge—a really nice touch.”
—Hao Ko, AIA