Reimagining Parking

September 15, 2016

Reimagining Parking

by Mary Stiff

Recently, I was asked to photograph AMT’s work on the Brookside Gardens Parking Lot and Entryway in Wheaton Maryland. At first I wondered how I might go about making a parking lot seem interesting. I was wrong to wonder.

As I arrived at the Brookside Gardens entrance, I was greeted by new stone parapet walls creating a sense of place. The driveway is now hard to miss. I pulled in to the familiar deer gates and noted the pedestrian entrance alongside the driveway with wooden boardwalk with sleek railings, an artistic entry gate and a platform with a sculptural representation of a gingko tree.   The entry area includes a new collection of magnolia trees and other native plants that the deer don’t like to eat.

As I drove up to toward the deer fence and grates the vehicular gates opened and I pulled up to the gatehouse, a beautiful modern rustic structure composed of glass and wood. The driveway curves beyond the gatehouse to reveal a stunning sight.

The last time I had been here, there was little besides curbs in the parking lot.  This time I was greeted by a lot paved in permeable pavement that surrounded a large bioretention facility—one of the most beautiful bioretention facilities I have ever seen (I have seen a lot of bioretention facilities). New saplings and young plantings in vibrant hues basked in the sunshine. It was certainly beyond anything I had envisioned for a parking lot.

Once out of the car, I walked over the footbridge past the electric car charging stations, and onto the entry pavilion with its water feature and shaded, hand crafted bench—a perfect spot to meet people for a walk in the gardens.  I turned back to look at the lot and noticed the gabion wall. Was that really rubble from the old lot pieced together in that cage-like frame? It fit so tightly, the pieces looked hand placed.

I walked along the walkway to the other side of the welcome center and found a larger space that would be perfect for use as an outdoor classroom or even an event venue. It overlooks the pond below and has steps leading down to a lower level with its own beautiful water feature. This area of the entryway is still being planted and these gardens will have community input to finish them. For a more detailed description of plantings, please see this Washington Post article. 

The difference between my expectations of what I would find and what I saw when I arrived is astounding. I will never look at a parking lot the same way again. Congratulations to AMT’s landscape architects, engineers and to our colleagues at Brookside Gardens and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission on redefining the term “parking lot.”

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