Nov. 9, 2022

Class of 2022: Imagine living in a futuristic apartment suspended above a Calgary parking lot

Architecture grad Raye Yuxin Liu’s visionary arch concept a soaring solution for flexible housing in car-centric cities
The Commons, a senior research studio concept developed by Raye Yuxin Liu, a graduate student in the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape, is a prefabricated and re-configurable co-living community.
The Commons, a senior research studio concept developed by Raye Yuxin Liu, a graduate student in the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape.

Inner-city parking lots — they’re the arch enemy of walkable cities and human spaces.

But one UCalgary graduate sees parking lots as an opportunity to build arches designed to provide badly-needed flexible housing and greenspace in an asphalt landscape.

That’s how Raye Yuxin Liu envisions the future of Calgary’s ubiquitous inner-city parking lots, currently taking up vast amounts of land while restricted to a single user and use, that being drivers and their parked vehicles.

Liu expects single-family cars will be phased out in a more sustainable future, but while vehicles rule the ground, the Master of Architecture student wonders if people might live and work in the space above.

That’s where the arches come in.

“The idea is that during this transition time for Calgary, where we are still a driving culture, there are many parking lots, but also a need for flexible housing,” explains Liu.

Raye Yuxin Liu

Raye Yuxin Liu

Flexible housing can include customizable rental timelines, and could include prefabricated living units and communal spaces, such as shared kitchen, co-working spaces and child-care areas, with sizes ranging from studio apartments to space large enough for a family of four.

“Basically, I have the idea to create a structure that hangs prefabricated units above parking lots, so while we are still relying on driving they can still park, but the hanging structure – which looks like a bridge – can be used for pedestrians, and included an elevated park.”

Graduation, and a career

On Nov. 10 Liu will graduate from the Master of Architecture program at UCalgary’s School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape.

Even before convocation, she’s landed a job with prominent technology-driven design firm IBI Group, and is busy working on a 30-storey mixed-use tower planned for Vancouver’s new Cambie Gardens community.

Liu’s arch project, entitled The Commons, was her final design studio project at UCalgary, and it embraces her passion for improving the human living environment with responsibility, sustainability and beauty.

Real-world potential

Described as a “prefabricated and reconfigurable residential community,” The Commons was specifically planned for an existing parking lot near 11th Avenue and Macleod Trail, to show how the idea might work in a real-world setting.

The arch, built using cutting-edge glulam techniques and strong enough to support hanging housing units, is anchored in four corners. Each of those pedestrian-friendly “legs” climb to meet in a wider middle space, roughly two storeys above the parking lot surface.

As well as providing entrances to the apartments and work spaces hanging below, the meeting place atop the arch has room for greenspace and a small public park, while the parking lot itself can be used for markets or public performances off-hours and on weekends.

Pursuing her passion

As a potential solution for sustainable and temporary housing needs, the project has been hailed as an innovative and purposeful solution that breaks with convention, even as Liu herself shares the credit with her instructor for helping to inspire the idea.

One thing Liu can take full credit for is deciding to pursue architecture as a career. At 28 years old, and already established as a Mandarin-English translator, she decided to head back to school and pursue her passion.

“I have a naive dream – I want to help the poor to improve their living conditions,” says Liu, who points to an eye-opening trip to a slum in the Philippines as her motivation.

“I know it’s naive, but it’s what I hope to do.”

Entrepreneurial UCalgary grads make an impact in health care, culture, law, business, the environment, and more. Read more stories about Class of 2022 students.

A note for soon-to-be UCalgary Alumni! As you prepare to transition from student life, we encourage you to check out our Life Kit for Recent Grads – custom built to inform you about the programs, benefits and services available to you as a member of the UCalgary alumni community.