Advances in engineering techniques in the last thirty years have enabled the city of Paris to sink car parks underground, but in earlier times the problem was how to make these large buildings fit into a street in an aesthetic manner. Paris has never been big on practical brutalism and the purpose of these buildings had to be disguised. The Parking Bellefond in the street of the same name is testament to this fact, with almost no cars being visible from the exterior.
Looked at alongside its neighbours, solid, traditional Haussmannian appartments, this building could easily be a factory or warehouse. It is only at ground floor level that we see cars, but even here the purpose is disguised somewhat by plate glassed office units. Above, the whitewashed walls give a light feeling to the building, and the zig-zagging layers and frosted windows offer a touch of originality to the ensemble. With the potted plants and decorative emerald green mosaic tiling at the entrance, the building becomes almost attractive.
Why am I so fascinated by these multi-story car parks though? They certainly offer a graphic interest making them easy to photograph, but I think my regard goes beyond that aspect. It is more about their atmosphere, and the curious lighting that make them a favoured location for the modern day film noir. How many times have we seen car parks used as the scene of murders, drug drop offs and double dealings? They have become iconic city locations, places where nothing good can happen, and symbols of the machines that are slowly asphyxiating us. In the UK, where car parks mostly have a final rooftop level that is open to the elements, they have also become the urban place of choice for suicides.
The now demolished multi-story car park in Newcastle made famous by the film 'Get Carter'