Steel in Parking Structures

Feb. 7, 2006
Building parking structures with steel frames and corresponding materials have opened up an array of offerings

Visit any major city, and steel is front and center - everything from girder slabs to staggered trusses on construction sites - as the skyline undergoes yet another change. Noting its highest strength-to-weight ratio and the capability to accommodate long spans and open-bay footprints, we expect this remarkable material to work its magic in the creation of looming skyscrapers and landmark buildings. However, steel also delivers when it comes to what might be considered more mundane architecture: parking structures.

But, as the next few paragraphs illustrate, building today’s and tomorrow’s parking structures with steel frames and corresponding materials have opened up an array of offerings - ease of construction, seismic performance, personal security, longevity, and accelerated construction deadlines - including an unlimited opportunity for aesthetic expression.

In other words, the “wow” factor can now extend to a building category that, historically, has been utilitarian. Consider the opportunities that exist to enhance your office campus, retail setting, or downtown corporate headquarters. Steel-framed parking structures are a true investment in the future.

AISC Marketing LLC, a division of Chicago-based American Institute of Steel Construction provides insight through a number of its in-house and collaborative educational materials (excerpted throughout the next few pages). When determining the possibilities for your next parking structure, turn to AISC as a dependable and insightful resource in technical expertise and direction.

Today’s Parking Structures: Why Steel?

Open façades and slender columns of high-strength steel provide the opportunity of significant weight savings. This impacts foundation requirements, as well as adaptability to irregular sites.

Rapid Construction
With off-site assembly and simple, straight-forward assembly techniques, parking facilities can be constructed within a few months - much faster than conventional methods. The speed of design and construction is particularly critical to revenue-generating parking structures or in situations where an adjacent office building cannot be fully leased until adequate parking is provided.

Fire Protection
When fire protection needs are addressed at the conceptual stages of a project, steel ensures that simple features (open-deck and/or modular designs) can help minimize the need for extensive fire protection systems. Today, under the Intl. Building Code (IBC), open, detached parking garages up to 75 feet high can be framed with unprotected steel in most jurisdictions.

Small Columns
Integrated beams and slender columns maximize space availability, improving users’ visual comfort and safety (wide columns in conventional structures are more prone to conceal potential thieves, etc.). Slender columns also enable much more space in maneuvering cars into and out of spaces.

Long Spans
Space availability for parking structures is often restricted, confined, and misshaped, but the design opportunity in steel is to optimize space usage through long open spans. Although long spans - typically 55 to 65 feet - may increase weight, the cost (due to fabrication and erection efficiencies) can be reduced by as much as 10 percent over conventional methods. Advantages of long spans include:

  • Column-free areas that simplify maintenance and improve illumination.
  • Less opportunity for damage to automobiles.
  • More openness and improved effect (safety/comfort) for patrons.
  • Greater flexibility to re-stripe stalls.
  • Fewer spaces lost to careless parkers in three-car bays.

Restrictions of space and accessibility of irregularly shaped or small sites, as well as limited foundation depths, can be addressed by incorporating lightweight steel frames in parking structures.

Less construction time means a structure is in use and making money. Overall cost considerations also include reduced foundation costs, construction in virtually any weather condition, and low maintenance requirements. Add life-cycle to the mix - today’s coatings and galvanized paints extend longevity and require only minimal touch-ups - and the financial benefits are enormous.

Architectural Appeal
The flexibility of steel manufactured in different sections, along with creative design, ensures parking structures that are imaginative and appealing. (These pages prove that “typical” design in parking structures is anything but typical.) At the same time, steel offers the ability to decrease floor-to-floor heights, thereby offering flexibility and affordability to the façade and other vertical elements.

Steel as a durable framing material lasts for centuries with only minor preventive maintenance. It has stood the test of time, with a multitude of examples in every city that prove its advantage.

Ease of Maintenance
Today’s modern protective coatings and/or high-performance paint systems protect steel-framed parking structures for 30 to 50 years, with merely minimal touch-ups. The open and readily accessible steel frame - a “standard” - simplifies surface inspection and maintenance.

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