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Future-proofing car parks: New guidance tackles changing vehicle landscape

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The Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE) has unveiled its latest guidance, entitled “Car Park Design,” addressing the evolving challenges and demands that contemporary car park structures face.

Reflecting a shift in the usage of car parks from just parking cars to recharging and storing them, as well as e-bikes and e-scooters, the guidance is both timely and necessary. The change in vehicle design, including the average weight increase from 1.5t in 1974 to almost 2t today due to electric and hybrid batteries, prompts a reconsideration of the design, construction, and maintenance of both new and existing car parks.

The impact of electric cars

“There are myriad considerations the design of a modern car park needs to address, particularly as selling petrol and diesel cars and vans will be banned in the UK by 2030, and hybrid cars and vans by 2035,” stated Chris Whapples, a Fellow of the Institution of Structural Engineers (FIStructE) who served as overseeing consultant on the guidance.

The guidance, which involved ten expert contributors, uses structural failures such as the Pipers Row floor collapse in Wolverhampton, UK in 1997, and a recent tragic car park collapse in Manhattan, New York as significant points of reference and learning.

The report is divided into two parts: one for those involved in procuring a car park, including clients, architects, and project managers, and the second covering more in-depth design issues for those responsible for detailed design, such as structural and civil engineers.

Addressing the concerns

The report also highlights a serious concern regarding car park fires. Several severe fires have occurred in car parks designed according to current guidance, leading to questions about whether this produces a fire-safe design in all circumstances.

“As we move to using more electric or hybrid cars, we are now exposed to risks from vehicle compositions and propulsion systems which current design guidance does not acknowledge,” explained Mark Punsdack, Chair of the Contributor Group and also a Fellow of IStructE.

The guidance recognises the importance of accessibility in car park design, given that people are living longer and with more independence in the UK and many other countries. The document also gives significant attention to mental health aspects, focusing on physical measures that can deter suicide attempts within these structures.

Punsdack concluded, β€œThe car parks built today or those being renovated and re-used need to be designed with all this in mind if these structures are to remain viable and useful in a rapidly changing world.”

The β€œCar Park Design” guidance covers design, construction, and asset management of all car park structures, offering an indispensable resource for architects, engineers, developers, funders, and those servicing and maintaining car park facilities. With this guidance, the Institution of Structural Engineers continues to be a leader in addressing the evolving demands of structural engineering.

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