Ground Level: One more good-looking garage in Santa Monica

Santa Monica may just build the best-looking parking garages in the country.
6a00d8341c630a53ef014e89a4af5e970d-500wi.jpgIt hired the local firm Moore Ruble Yudell to design the 900-spot Civic Center Garage (wrapped in brightly colored glass panels and topped with solar panels, it opened in 2008). And it has upped its parking game again with the garage attached to the new Santa Monica Place, the shopping center originally designed by Frank Gehry that was turned last year by retail architect Jon Jerde into an open-air complex.

That garage, given a sleek skin by Pugh & Scarpa (a Santa Monica firm whose founders now run separate offices), is notable for several high-tech features, including a system of red and green lights that lets drivers peer down a row of spaces and see immediately whether any are free.

But the real show is outside, where the garage includes a number of large-scale public-art installations, including pieces by Anne Marie Karlsen (along 2nd Street) and L.A. firm Ball-Nogues Studio (along 4th Street). The Ball-Nogues piece, called Cradle, features hundreds of stainless-steel spheres suspended from one of the garages exterior walls. The design is open-ended enough to suggest both sea foam and a Newtons Cradle, that familiar desk toy that sends one steel ball thwacking against a row of others.

Cradle looks perfectly good from a car, but the best way to see it is up close, as a pedestrian; that angle allows you to appreciate the reflections and distortions on the surface of the spheres.

Santa Monica has no shortage of pedestrians already, but it is expecting a whole lot more when the Expo light-rail line is extended west from Culver City four years from now. The final station on that line (or first, if youre heading east) will be just steps from Santa Monica Place, making the garage and its artwork a destination even if youre not looking for a place to park.
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