There is an estimated $121bn worth of road and bridge projects under construction or planning in the Gulf region alone.  Traffic infrastructure is central to this, with car parks: key project component in building and infrastructure design as an integral part an important piece of any urban property development.  There are numerous factors at work when considering any car parking design in the Middle East, particularly the sheer volume of cars, a relatively high water table in most locations and very extreme conditions, resulting in many countries implementing green initiatives through innovative solutions.

Experts in this type of construction assert that these days’ project designers are more thoughtful, carefully integrating support services and modern parking solutions with their overall designs of urban mega projects developments.  As parking projects tend to be incorporated into larger programmes, it is argued that it has become necessary for specialists to work with larger local engineering firms as the parking component of any project is now emerging as an important factor of integration in the projected development.

To this end, Dubai International Convention & Exhibition Centre early will next month see parking industry-related seminars and panels featuring several regional and international speakers.  Topics will include smart parking and future mobility, ensuring all parking master plans are sustainable in addition to case studies on growing economies and keeping pace with increasing vehicle numbers.

Contractors and suppliers of building material and components, say there is some expectations that the car park design market will “remain strong, as there are a significant number of large-scale projects currently being planned”.

Dubai with both the Expo 2020, the ‘Mall of the World’ and the Qatar World Cup 2022, are particularly strong areas of opportunities.

meanwhile, the traditional car park is being challenged by robotic car park design.  Last year MAG Group built the largest smart parking facility in the world, a nine-storey steel structure that at a cost of $22mn, boasts a capacity of 1,190 vehicles and incorporates a car wash.

The automated car parking solution is proving buoyant in the UAE (Abu Dhabi and Dubai in particular), Qatar and Saudi Arabia, according to Park Plus Middle East’s chairman, HE Mohammed Al Qubaisi.

It is believed that the impetus given by Expo 2020 and the city’s ambition to be in the top 10 most sustainable cities in the world, makes Dubai “a clear candidate for expanding its robotic / sustainable parking footprint”.

It is worth noting that car parking concepts have moved from so called ‘rack & rails’ designs built with large steel beams that are expensive and present the danger of having single points of failure, whereas the whole, or large parts, of the system shuts down in case of failure.

The new generation of robotic car parks is centered on Automated Guided Vehicles (AGV).  The AGV technology has existed for decades now and is used in large factories, now in hotels and hospitals all over the world.

“We are bringing this advanced robotic system to the parking world, eliminating dreaded bottlenecks found in traditional automated parking, since multiple robots work collaboratively on normal concrete structures.”

The company is currently working on its first project in the GCC, which is a 110 parking space residential building located in one of the most parking-congested areas of the city.

“We are confident we will be able to use this as a showcase for the region before the end of 2015,” Al Qubaisi adds.

There is definitely a demand for improved technology and greener solutions.  GreenParking, the company behind Salalah and Sharjah Airport parking, Emaar Square, RTA HQ and DEWA’s EV charging stations, provides the complete spectrum of parking services.

Sam Alawiye, MD. says one of the most important factors that defines the changes in car park design development “is the constant increase of the number of cars in the cities ending up with more intensity of car flow and traffic”.

“It is essential for the success of the parking to have a design that can avoid operational problems,” Further to the physical design of the car park are elements of technology that improve the efficiency and overall car park experience.

Alawiye highlights the company’s Parkchips for visitors, contactless cards for employees and long-range cards for VIPs as an option.

“This system concept is currently the market leading technology in the UAE with more than 100 delivered systems,” he asserts.

“Based on its read-write technology, the system can still operate even in case of network failure, which is not possible in barcode or read-only concepts.”

This creates savings on paper ticket technology, but is more reliable, particularly in desert conditions.

Moreover, experts highlight that environmentally friendly construction is “an increasingly important factor for developers”.

Flowcrete helped Abu Dhabi National Oil Company prove the green credentials of its new HQ. LEED certification were achieved by implementing a car park design with priority carpooling spaces that encouraged employees to share journeys to work.

Concurring, Al Qubaisi says “sustainability is increasingly a major concern”.

“Since our parking systems means having no fume emissions inside, the HVAC use is reduced to a minimum, so is the lighting.”

But he continues that the biggest demand “is the requirement for increased parking capacity in a given footprint”.

“Take Abu Dhabi where the Urban Planning Council is asking all new buildings to have parking integrated in structures,” he explains.

“With the water table being pretty high, as in most of the GCC urban areas, the cost of digging for parking is excruciatingly high.  Since we allow developers to double the number of cars for the same footprint, our solution makes a lot of sense.”

There are of course challenges beyond catering to the demands of developers.

The main issues when it comes to coating car parks in the region are inextricably linked to the extreme weather.

This is a “particular problem” on the exposed levels of a car park, especially considering the high levels of UV, according to car park experts.

“To counteract this issue Flowcrete is able to offer its Deckshield ED system, which is 100% UV light stable,” he asserts.

Al Qubaisi is facing a different issue.  While Flowcrete has established and well-known solutions in the market, Park Plus is looking to break into the sector in the region.

“I would say the main challenge is a problem of perception and fear of being the first entrant,” he explains.

“The good news is that this attitude is not stopping a few pioneers to move forward with AGV projects in the region, some of them of substantial size.”

It is generally believed that the future of car park design is “like much of the construction industry”, in advancing it’s sustainable and environmental qualities.

“This includes not only manufacturing cleaner products, but also streamlining and improving packaging, transportation, installation, maintenance and end of life processes to reduce waste and lower a site’s carbon footprint.”

For Al Qubaisi, he is adamant that the future of car park design is AGVs.  He adds that the company has met with the main civil defence departments, which have awarded blanket approvals for its technology.

While operating in traditional concrete garages, the system provides fire separation from floor to floor and “there are no big steel beam gaps abhorred by firemen”.

Further to this, the chairman highlights that more than 50% of typical downtown traffic is linked to people searching a parking space.

“As the GCC urban planning is evolving rapidly toward efficiency and sustainability and as the amount of space is finite in all cities, we believe we are here at the right time to help GCC countries embrace their green visions,” he adds.