CT Hsu & Associates, P.A.

The Orlando Magic's aluminum-plated garage and Duke University's green-walled parking lot are among the winners of the 2012 International Parking Institute competition.

Big news: The International Parking Institute has unveiled its 2012 "Awards of Excellence" for high-tech, sustainable parking lots across the U.S. This year's crop of winners reflects an industry move toward "high tech, aesthetic parking that contributes to sustainability," according to the IPI.

Lesser news: There is such a thing as the International Parking Institute, if you didn't know about it; the IPI's seed was planted with the creation of the Detroit Municipal Parking Authority in 1948, and it's since grown to become the biggest association for parking professionals in America. If you so desire, travel to the institute's website for a timeline of its full and rich history.

How does a parking lot qualify as "excellent"? By the IPI's standard, it must knock the judges' socks off in one of the following categories: innovation, efficiency, sustainability and user-friendliness. This year, there were seven beauts that fit the bill. Here's IPI honcho Shawn Conrad explaining why they deserve huge, blue ribbons:

"The 2012 winners exemplify the fact that our industry is no longer just about parking cars; it's about being part of transportation solutions, relieving traffic congestion, taking a leadership role in reducing our carbon footprint and so much more. We have a responsibility to encourage and support the use of alternative forms of transportation, from bicycles and light rail to electric vehicles, and each of our winners demonstrates that commitment. They all combine sustainability, aesthetics, and efficient technology and support the concept that 'getting from here to there' should be a good experience."

You can find detailed explications of the 2012 winners here (and this is a list of winners from previous competitions back to 1998), but here are the highlights:

• The "Award for Architectural Achievement" goes to the GEICO garage at Orlando's Amway Center, home of the Magic. This marvel of modern parking has 1,876 spaces, yet can be fully emptied in half an hour. The IPI judges' table were impressed by the "stunning example of form and function" that is the lot's aluminum-clad exterior, which reflects beaming images of the city on a "façade of shifting textures, color, and scale." The lot also is LEED-Gold certified.

• The "Best Design of a Parking Facility with Fewer than 800 Spaces" was taken by the Intermodal Transit Facility in Hillsboro, Oregon, a lot that encourages drivers to not burn gasoline. Located next to a light-rail stop, the structure includes a "bike station" and charging devices for electric vehicles. Its LED lights are powered by a solar array on the roof, and a drainage system funnels rainwater into "elegantly landscaped storm-detention areas" down below.

• The "Best Design/Implementation of a Surface Parking Lot" went to Toronto's Zhong Hua Men Archway, the only arch of its kind in the city. The lot only has 43 spaces, but the judges loved its gateway-to-Chinatown feel. The archway was erected to "symbolize Chinese contributions to Canada, and includes a tribute to the 17,000 workers who built the transnational railway."

Top photo of the GEICO garage courtesy of C.T. Hsu & Associates, P.A.

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