Located at the intersection of Fourth and Olympic, the Santa Monica Civic Center parking structure has become a highly visible and intriguing landmark for the city. The eight-story, 900-car facility fearlessly embraces color and transparency, reimagining the very notion of a parking garage and creating a welcoming new “front door” for the civic center.

Success of the project's lighting design can be credited to Los Angeles–based lighting design firm Francis Krahe & Associates (FKA). Together with the executive architect, International Parking Design of Irvine, Calif., as well as the design architect, Santa Monica, Calif.–based Moore Ruble Yudell Architects & Planners, FKA developed a seamlessly integrated lighting concept that includes interior parking areas, exterior façade, perimeter landscape lighting, and graphic signage.

With the City of Santa Monica as the client, there were many individuals involved in the overall design process. Complex design reviews were conducted involving a committee of individuals representing areas of maintenance, finance, and community outreach. Multiple rounds of redesign and budget compliance presented the team with a challenging goal of balancing function and aesthetics, financial, and sustainability concerns. Despite the challenges faced over the course of the six-year process, a shared desire remained to turn a seemingly simple concrete structure into an appealing piece of architecture.

The final design, completed in March 2007, is a surprisingly lively building that creates a beautiful new gateway to the civic center, both by day and at night. Le Nguyen, senior lighting designer at FKA, describes the aesthetic as “optimizing daylight views and transparency, with colorful variation relating to the City of Santa Monica's vibrant culture.” At night, a similar emphasis was placed on transparency so that the garage would “glow and radiate like a lantern.”

Color specialists at Moore Ruble Yudell Architects went through a series of studies to create a palette of hues that are incorporated into the laminated, U-shaped glass channels, which hang from the core concrete structure and respond to the varying urban contexts of the garage's four façades. The lighting designers explored light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and fluorescent lamps as possible light sources to enhance the tone of the exterior colored glass panels; however, after several design and budget reviews and full-scale mock-ups, the team settled on neon as the illumination source that met both the aesthetic and cost criteria. The decision to use a neon source rather than LEDs was in part a circumstance of timing. “The whole exercise of purchase and bid happened when LEDs were just becoming prevalent in the market,” Nguyen explains. “If it had been a few more months, we probably would have selected LEDs.”

As the lighting team worked to understand the skin of the building, it became critical to develop an interior lighting system that would not interfere with the visibility or the transparency of the façade. Safety was a major concern for the city given the structure's adjacency to municipal buildings, including a courthouse. Consequently, the city required increased interior illuminance criteria of 5 to 20 footcandles and a uniformity ratio of 4:1, approximately 5 to 20 times greater than Illuminating Engineering Society recommendations. To balance security requirements with issues of glare control and maintenance ease, the design team at FKA selected indirect lensed 3000K T5HO fluorescent pendants to light the interior of the garage. Through a combination of lighting controls and strategic placement, the warmth of the interior white light radiates through the parking structure without overwhelming the color articulation on the façade.

Known for being a progressive community, the City of Santa Monica has an enthusiastic commitment to protecting the environment, improving quality of life, and promoting sustainability. A variety of sustainable and environmentally conscious decisions were made during the design process, including those made in regard to the lighting.

To optimize the use of daylight in the parking garage, daylighting models were calculated to evaluate sunlight patterns and establish interior lighting zones, which are in turn controlled via photocells. A 19,200-square-foot, 181-kilowatt installation of solar photovoltaic panels takes advantage of available solar power, acting as a shading device for the top level parking area and creating an on-site renewable energy source for the entire building. To address concerns about light trespass onto neighboring properties, rooftop lighting is concealed in perimeter handrails with a modified glare-control louver optic. As a result of the project's commitment to environmental responsibility, the parking structure received a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Certified rating from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Over the lifetime of the project, the design team never lost sight of its goal to create a visually appealing “gateway” for the new Santa Monica Civic Center. The building has become what Nguyen describes as “the antithesis of a parking structure.” By implementing qualities of transparency and color into what otherwise typically might be described as a mundane building type, the architectural and lighting design teams were able to provide a unique and memorable experience to those using the parking garage while also giving the City of Santa Monica an architectural icon of which it can be truly proud.

DETAILS Project Santa Monica Civic Center parking structure, Santa Monica, Calif.
Executive Architect International Parking Design, Irvine, Calif.
Design Architect Moore Ruble Yudell Architects & Planners, Santa Monica, Calif.
Lighting Designer Francis Krahe & Associates, Los Angeles
Project Size 300,000 square feet
Project Cost $31 million
Lighting Cost $1 million
Watts per Square Foot 1
Photographer John Edward Linden Photography, Woodland Hills, Calif.
Manufacturers / Applications

T5HO indirect/direct pendants in parking area; surface-mounted fixtures at elevator lobbies, rooftop perimeter and photovoltaic structure

T5HO surface-mounted fixtures at stairwells

NSI Products
Four colors of neon on garage façades

Woodbridge Glass Fabricators
Custom glass panels on garage façades