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Architecture gawking: a not-boring parking garage

SUNY admin parking garage

Speaking of not-boring parking garages: We were thinking today that this parking garage in downtown Albany has to be one of the best-looking parking structures in the area. (Tip of the hat to Carl for pointing this out a while back.)

Yeah, that's not exactly a high bar. But if we're going to have parking garages, why not have structures that are a bit interesting and/or beautiful. (Of course, the more intricate the design, the more expensive it is usually.)

This particular garage is for the SUNY administration building. The 670-space structure sits next to I-787, by the pedestrian walkway -- you can't miss it. Envision Architects designed it.

Sure, the building reads as a parking garage, but it's not just one boring layer stacked upon another. And we like the detail on the metal screens that cover the openings.

Anyway, a few more photos for architecture gawking are after the jump.

Photos are in large format above -- click or scroll all the way up.


I have always admired the design of this garage when passing by on 787! Who's in charge of Albany Med's Park South development so we can we forward them this post? ;)

Yes this building is much better than that abandoned, graffiti marked, 1/2 burned down structure at the other end of Albany on 787. That thing is so horrible on the eyes and completely takes away for Albany's skyline. Does anyone know why that thing hasn't been knocked down?

Here's a bit from Don Rittner's piece on the cultural price we paid for this "award winning" parking garage:


Stewart Dean had his house and docks here and in 1785 took his sloop Experiment across to China, the first such adventure ever. Yes, these were uncovered along with a 150 foot long section of the 1730 Albany Stockade, an 18th century dock, wharves, an Indian site, and a mid 17th century fire pit mixed with Indian and European goods below it. If they had given up a few parking spots you could be admiring it today.


I love how Duncan treats himself as if he is the area's 'professional critic'.
Please submit samples of your portfolio.

Response to Duncan's comment:
The details of what happened when the historic discovery was made, the conditions of the artifacts, and the potential to preserve them are not made clear. What good could possibly come of, say, an open pit in the ground that has a collection of historic stones? Unless the investment was made to make a museum, it would eventually degrade. Furthermore, not all pieces of history are "worthy of preservation", particularly in situ. Sometimes, documentation of findings and preservation of selected artifacts and their presentation in an exhibit (in an _existing museum_) are enough to "show the public" the history. Do not mistake my point of view: I agree with the concept of an extensive, outdoor, walkable, historically preserved series of sites, particularly in light of Don Rittner's article. However, that is *not* what was presented to the designers of the SUNY parking structure. Without getting into a deeper discussion of re-development of urban areas that have been allowed to decay beyond reasonable preservation efforts, I offer the following:

First, the article (by Carl) to which this comment is directed is praising the design aesthetic of a parking structure that was commissioned. Had it been an unattractive parking structure, Duncan's snarky commentary might be founded; here, it is misplaced.

The parties who made the decision to move forward with this parking structure (long before the design was established) did not ask the designers of the parking structure if the site was appropriate for such a development. They *told* the designers to "build it here" and the design team went to work detailing and working out a functional, purposeful, structure that is not a bland, utilitarian structure like so many others. Take a look at the quoted article by Don Rittner and you will see what could have been built versus what was built.

The point of the article by Carl and the article to which Carl was responding is that there are "good" parking structure designs and there are many "boring" designs. All efforts should be made toward "good", particularly when enough redevelopment of an area is underway that the funding should not be a major issue.

It is very gratifying to read the positive comments about this garage, for which I led design. Much credit goes to the leaders of the State University Construction Fund who understood the importance of making this a better public building and their work to make the investment that was required.

Duncan Crary's remarks were generally true but quite misleading. Yes, these artifacts, or at least remnants that led to these conclusions were present, but there was not significant archaeological fabric that could reasonably be observed in situ. Even the stockade fence had been cut off and buried so long ago. Only the bottom stumps remained. While I do not remember what was included specifically, those items deemed of value by the archaeologists were removed to another site (State Museum?) for better archive and possible display. A full SEQR mitigation was meticulously performed.

@dig it: Just to clarify, Carl didn't write this post, I was just acknowledging that he had pointed out this garage the last time this topic came up. (I've reworded that sentence in an effort to make that more clear.)

We drove by this on the way to the Egg last night and I admired it from the passenger seat...I'd never really given it a close look before since I'm always distracted by the splendor that is the SUNY admin building.

@ Albany resident - AoA has covered that building a few times before (http://alloveralbany.com/archive/2009/04/10/central-warehouse). When we passed it last night I had mentioned to my husband that we should start a Kickstarter campaign to see if we could get people to donate towards repainting the building since tearing it down is likely out of the question. It would be great to have some sort of beautiful, massive mural depicting Albany's rich history on the Central Warehouse.

As parking garages go, this one is a nice and well designed structure. A bit more relevant would be asking why doesn't SUNY powerwash it every now and then... to maintain its aesthetic value.

@ Valerae- Thanks for bringing that to my attention. I like your idea but based on the articles, looks like several layers of government would need to be involved for that to happen (DOT, City, County. etc) Any insight on Kathy Sheehan's agenda with the building? Any word on the current owner? Even if its the last item on the Mayors long to-do list, I would be so happy.

Some things in this city can be addressed with the See Click Fix app which is both great and terrible at accomplishing various activities (response from DGS is amazing, APD, not so much). Not sure if anything through that might catch the mayor's attention (there could already be an entry for it for all I know). Maybe a petition to Mayor Sheehan's might work.

When our family came up from NYC and Philly for xmas I gave them directions that avoided the part of 787 where this is viewable. I also had them avoid seeing the hot dog plant on I-90. Both are terrible first impressions of this city to outsiders. It's blight like this that is part of what's holding Albany back from the greatness that could be within its grasp. (Go ahead, this is the part where you laugh).

@TedMalin said: "Duncan Crary's remarks were generally true but quite misleading."

Let's talk about "quite misleading"... A few months ago at Brown's taproom you invited yourself into a conversation I was having with a friend regarding the ruins of Fort Nassau, 1614.


You "corrected" me at the time to tell me that "No, Wolcott was no responsible for finding the remains of the original Fort Orange in the early 1970s." But rather, you said YOUR team discovered Fort Orange when working on this garage (decades later).

You were confused about Fort Orange and the older Fort Nassau. You appeared unaware of the fact that the actual fort in Fort Orange was discovered and uncovered in the 1970s. And I sent you an email later to Don Rittner's article, explaining that it was not "Fort Orange" but a portion of a newer stockade that was uncovered by this garage.

Decades after Fort Orange was buried under an exit ramp for 787, the governor and mayor of Albany wanted to build an "historical recreation" of Fort Orange to attract tourists.

But the archaeologists were never given proper time to study the fort. So .... we don't know what it actually looked like, or what it's true dimensions were. Sound like a good idea? Good use of money? Let's talk about Disney-type buildings.

Does anyone remember the colonial rum distillery uncovered in this part of Albany? In a civilized, rational country, we would have preserved the artifacts and the site -- at the site -- and built the parking spaces around it.

Jack McEneny had it right then:

"McEneny has suggested enclosing the distillery in glass and building the parking garage around it -- in the same way, he said, that a subway station in Mexico City displays Aztec ruins. That suggestion has been scoffed at by the chairman of the Albany Parking Authority, who says people will not visit a historic exhibit in a garage."


But sure folks... go ahead, call me "snarky" and accuse me of "misleading" people.

To the thing calling itself "DoodooBrown," hows this for a start?

"Duncan Crary wrangles these free-wheeling conversations masterfully" — Stephen J. Dubner, best-selling co-author of Freakonomics and Superfreakonomics

"...some of the smartest, most honest urban commentary around—online or off." — Michele Wilson, Columbia Journalism Review

"a gregarious public-relations consultant, history buff and Troy tub-thumper" — Joanne Kaufman, Wall Street Journal

"rising cultural observation star" — Lindsay Curren, Transition Voice

"Crary wholly understands these potentialities of radio and uses them well." — Frank Kaminski, resilience.org

"Troy's other mayor" — Michael DeMasi Albany Business Review

Here's more. Or you could read my book, or various other articles I've written or interviews I've given in other books and magazines.


Let's get the facts straight here. Albany Historian John Wolcott knew the stockade was there. In fact he told the archeologists there what to expect to find. The other point is the designers could have lost a few parkings places and left the 150 foot section of the stockade exposed and enclosed for the public to see. Whenever I hear someone talk about how a site cannot be preserve in situ it proves two things: 1) they have no knowledge of the subject, and 2: they haven't left their nest. To see examples of archeological sites preserved in situ try visiting Montreal, or Seattle, or New York City or I can name a few hundred places around the world. Please reread my piece in the TU. The city is complaining about a budget deficit. There was a stretch of archeological sites from State Street to Quackenbush that was uncovered and then destroyed. The heritage tourism dollars that could have been generated (remember 5,000 people visited the rum distillery before it was covered over) from that one stretch is astronomical. 1 out of 3 foreign visitors to the US come to see a historic site. Heritage tourists stay longer, are better educated, and spend more money than the average tourist. I too like the design of that parking garage. It proves they don't have to look like erector sets but parking garages can be built anywhere. The buried past is where it lies and at the least a designer can do is try to incorporate it into the new structure like so many others have done around the world. Happy 400th anniversary Albany. Yeah, that's right. You don't even know it's your birthday.

@ Don Rittner
It does seem that an opportunity has been missed. Thank you for clarifying the facts and making a coherent post.

While I understand and somewhat agree with the point that you - and Mr. Crary - are making about the loss of cultural heritage for the sake of anything "new", it seems that the comments have digressed from the perceived intent of the article. I *have* traveled to and lived in other parts of the country and the world where history is preserved and on display to the public, so I understand what can be done.

Granted, there may have been another site where the structure could have been built, but did the client suggest it to the designer? Would a different site solve the design parameters for the users of this parking structure? Was it an acceptable option for the client to eschew a number of parking spaces in order to preserve the artifacts? Would the funding for the project allow for such an endeavor?

The designer could make a suggestion but, if an historic preservation entity or another jurisdictional authority does not mandate such, it lies with the client to make the choice and instruct the designer how to proceed.

In the end, an opportunity may have been lost by a number of agencies and clients lacking the vision that you have presented for this area of Albany. However, you seem to like the design of the parking structure which addresses the intent of this article. The fact that it could be built anywhere is not entirely true; I am fairly certain that you understand how a site impacts the design a built structure. ;)

"Critics are men who watch a battle from a high place then come down to shoot the survivors."


@Duncan.... Quotes to hype yourself up are just that.
Until you actually produce a true body of architectural work, your just an amateur author posing as a critic.

"DooDooBrown is the smartest, handsomest, classiest and nicest fella ever!" - MomDukes

Are we really having an argument about a fairly nondescript bland boring parking garage next to a monstrous 6 lane highway??? Are you people for real questioning Duncan Crary for telling the truth and questioning his credentials? He may not have degrees in urban so called "planning" or so called "architecture" but he GETS IT. I am fairly convinced that the zoning codes when Rome or Paris were created probably could fit on the first page of some stupid zoning commission building a strip mall in a dumpy suburb of America. We are losing our common sense! Agree that this garage is a little better than the cement fortresses elsewhere but really to be spending more than a few passing lines about it when the entire City surrounding it is a virtual ghost town defies logic. Maybe if more of these so called architects and planners were to study and live as Duncan has we may go back to discussing the architecture of the State house or something worthwhile.

I would like to park there!

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