Frank Gehry-Inspired Parking Lot Design Causes Controversy
The parking lot for the new Downer's Grove Taco Bell, designed by civil engineer Damon Boecker's of local firm Madharn Engineering, is drawing vivid debate from the community after being called everything from "a luminous example of the aesthetic power of asphalt" to "a right clusterfuck".
Boecker, who was heavily influenced by star architect Frank Gehry during the design phase, maintains that while the lot does not necessarily allow for typical ingress and egress to and from the popular fast food chain, patrons are in for a non-linear experience that neither they nor their cars will be able to forget.
"I was especially proud of grading the pavement in a way that a customer pulling into the drive through will experience the sensation of the car verging on rolling over into the adjacent Burger King parking lot," beamed the proud engineer. "Of course, this is intended to remind patrons that not only are there no right-angles in nature, but to make them cognizant of the outside forces that pull on us from all directions every day."
Gehry's architecture, known for its curvilinear, undulating and soaring forms, has never been used in this way before, say the designers. Though not a single car has been able to successfully traverse the drive-through lane, nor back out of a parking space without causing massive body damage to the vehicle, critics are hailing the design as a new direction in parking lot advancements.
"Though I sure wouldn't want to drive across it, it's a real treat to look out across the flowing, wave-like parking lot," said Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin. "One minute, it's a rolling savannah, the next a spewing geyser, and all done with asphalt, which is so typically used only in practical and not artistic applications. Boecker deserves recognition for putting the emphasis on form before function, which may be a first in parking lot design."
Kamin went on to laud the design as a predecessor to the future standard that will become ubiquitous when cars can fly and drivers will not have to worry about bottoming out while rolling on soon-to-be obsolete wheels.
Others, however, are not as impressed. While the concave bowls and abrupt ridges contrast nicely to the flat prairie of the Illinois landscape, city planners now regret their decision to approve the design. Taco Bell is considering filing lawsuits against the engineers and city planners responsible for designing and permitting a loading zone that is intended to resemble an opening rosebud rather than serve for carting in supplies of ground beef and soft taco shells to the kitchen. Other lawsuits resulting from violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) are pending.
"I'm not opposed to art that challenges our preconceived notions of conventions and aesthetics," said Charna Bellwood, wheelchair-bound patron of the Mexican-themed fast food restaurant. "I wasn't even upset when my wheelchair got stuck in the rut between the front door and the sidewalk that represents the Chicago river, but when I started rolling in the wrong direction back towards the parking lot, like the reversed flow of the river, I began to fear for my life, and all I wanted was a taco."
Bellwood is part of a class-action lawsuit being filed against the Village of Downer's Grove. Though damages are being sought against all parties involved, Boecker and his superiors stand by his design and the foresight of the municipality to give it the okay.
"Usually, the only influence on engineering design is the latest ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineers) magazine, or the latest Asphalt Technologies quarterly," said the eponymous Greg Madharn, CEO of Madharn Engineering. "Now that we have an engineer who was inspired to combine elements of architectural advancements and the malleable qualities of asphalt and concrete curbing, we are poised to be part of a new movement that will specialize in stimulating, organic, if not unusable parking lots and roadways."
"Creative engineering does not need be a contradiction in terms," added the CEO.
Frank Gehry, architect of such notable structures as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, and the Peter B. Lewis Building at Case Western University in Cleveland, Ohio, expressed flattery at such homage to his design techniques, but offered some suggestions for future designs of similar scope.
"I might replace the blinding and expensive titanium barriers with plain old concrete curbs," suggested the 77 year-old architect, "and I would remove the redundant underground sewer pipes that go nowhere and intersect at odd angles, unseen beneath the pavement, in a pattern meant to represent the Great Lakes. Kudos for trying, though."