12/16/2013 08:25 am ET | Updated Feb 15, 2014

When Parking Garages Go Green, The Results Are Stunning

For many, the thought of a parking garage conjures no more than the vision of endlessly winding one's car up through a towering blight on the urban skyline.

While it's true that most garages don't feature an aesthetic any more interesting than a bare-faced, giant concrete block, there are designers who are rethinking this utilitarian form and turning these spaces into iconic architectural works that add a sleek, modern elegance to the cityscape while minimizing urban sprawl and environmental impact.

These three innovative parking garages turn the tedious task of parking into a multifaceted sensory experience that's on a par with driving the stylish 2014 Chevrolet Impala.

  • LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) isn't just for fancy skyscrapers and solar-powered homes. The first parking garage ever to receive this highly coveted environmental certification from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), the Santa Monica Civic Center parking lot, designed by Moore Ruble Yudell Architects & Planners, is a smorgasbord of sustainability, featuring everything from 213 kW of PVs, natural lighting, greywater systems, recycled materials, fully equipped EV parking and even space for bicycles! This beauty also boasts a cascade of colors on its facade to create an effect that shines beautifully in the California sun.
  • A wind-powered parking lot? You better believe it. This stunning structure by HOK Architects is a beacon of green design that takes advantage of the Windy City's breezes to power up the building. Natural ventilation, a glazed facade and rainwater collection also bring down the building's carbon footprint. But what truly catches the eye are the vertical turbines rising on the southwest corner that look more like an avant-garde sculpture than a series of power generators.
  • Swiss architects Herzog and de Meuron, famous for the Beijing Olympic stadium and the Tate Modern, have brought their penchant for dramatic architecture to South Beach. Definitely not your run-of-the-mill parking garage, this unique structure resembles a house of cards, with its open-air plan and dynamic floor heights, which range from a mere 8 feet to a cavernous 34 feet! High-end, glass-walled boutiques and restaurants sit at the crown of the building. Not surprisingly, this modern icon has been hosting fashion shows, commercial shoots, concerts and celebrity parties. It was even featured on the front page of The New York Times back in 2011.

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