Architecture Program


Date of this Version

May 2006


M. Arch Thesis, University of Nebraska - Lincoln, May 2006.


As a result the American society's dependency on the automobile, automobile dealerships grow in size and number unparalleled in any other industry. Dealerships are constantly seeking more inventories and require an ever increasing amount of space in which to display this inventory. This creates a constantly evolving cycle of abandoning old dealerships in search of a new larger space to accommodate the growing quantity of cars. This effect is compounded by the fact that many dealerships locate in colonies with other dealerships to multiply their customer drawing power. These huge sprawling parking lots may be a successful business practice but are definitely not ecologically conscious. This proposal realizes the need for such measures as a sustainable business practice but chooses to investigate the design strategies to create an ecologically sustainable design.

This proposal will first research the workings of the automobile dealership past and present to determine what aspects are needed to have a successful dealership. Brand marketing has a direct link to the design of the automobiles and this proposal will look at what effect marketing has on the dealership design as well. Certain automobile brands market ecologically consciousness in their automobile designs and manufacturing so by having a sustainable dealership these brands can market that as well. This will not only be better for the environment but will also be a marketable business solution that can further portray their environmental concerns to the consumers. An automobile brand will be chosen as a client as described further below.

This proposal will investigate the sustainable design strategies at many scales. First, a master plan of the site including a cluster of dealerships will look at what design aspects can be done at a large scale. Issues such as stormwater management, the use of native plants in the landscape, and orientation of the dealerships will be addressed at this scale.

The orientation of the dealership building and lot design and materials are examples of what will be researched at this stage. Then the dealership facility will be designed to promote a successful business while maintaining a sustainable design.

In order to fully investigate the benefits of sustainability, a contrast between a newly constructed automobile dealership (that exhibits no known sustainable features) and the sustainable design dealership will be shown. Research and analysis will be conducted on current dealerships in the regional area of the Midwest but primarily metropolitan communities of Kansas City, Omaha and Chicago. Precedents of sustainable design in an automobile dealership or an equal building type will be sought out and analyzed. Currently, no published sustainable automobile dealerships can be found in the U.S.; Ford Motor Company has one dealership in Europe and Toyota has one in Australia that is promoted as green design.

Many automobile manufacturers have recently been implementing sustainable design aspects in their manufacturing plants and Ford leads the way with their Rouge manufacturing plant in Dearborn, Michigan. This facility was constructed in the early 1900s and then in 1999, Ford set out to “lay the groundwork to transform a 20th century industrial icon into a model of 21st century sustainable manufacturing”. The Rouge facility incorporates many sustainable features including the world's largest living roof, storm-water swales, porous paving and solar cells.

Many manufacturers are also searching for clean technologies to place in their vehicles, hoping that one day we are no longer dependant on fossil fuels. Some are researching fuel cells, hybrids, or hydrogen combustion engines but all of them have the same goal of being ecologically conscious.

These manufactures will also be seeking ecologically conscious dealers to promote and sell their automobiles. The same target customers that purchase the clean running vehicles are aware of the hypocrisy that a manufacture markets an environmentally friendly car that is sold at a non-sustainable dealership. Therefore not only is it good for the environment, it is in the best interest of manufacturers and dealers to promote a sustainable dealership to go along with their marketing strategy.

During the summer of 2005, I will be conducting research and site analysis with Professor William Borner in an independent study class. The research will include conducting field research on local and regional dealerships to investigate the internal workings of a successful automobile dealership. This will potentially include surveying owners and managers about what it takes to operate a dealership. Then locating architectural firms that have designed dealerships and inquiring about the design goals, thought process, and problems associated with dealership design. Research will also include analyzing published works of automobile design and the marketing strategies that promote a brand. Site analysis and documentation will be done on the selected site and then a site model will then be constructed.

All analysis and site plans will therefore be done by fall 2005 and the schematic design phase and research of sustainable features will then be done. This schematic design phase is also when the master plan and site plans will be completed. Spring 2006 then signals the time for the design development to begin on the dealership structure. This is when the details of the project and its sustainable features will be finalized. In order to fully integrate sustainable features into the project, I will seek guidance from architectural firms and architects as critics for my design. Once the design is completed, the presentation and documentation of the project will then be conducted.

The chosen location for this proposal is the area surrounding the intersection of 126th Street and Harrison in Omaha, Nebraska. Two new dealerships were completed in 2004 and another is currently under construction. The site is bounded by the Millard Airport to the northeast and Interstate 80 directly to the south. This site was chosen because it has been recently developed and is a location that many dealerships chose to build with close proximity to one another.

Through the research and analysis conducted over the summer, the site will either be a “clean slate” of the current dealership's locations or immediately across Interstate 80. Although the Interstate would then split the colony of dealerships, it is not seen as a deterrent due to Harrison Street crossing over the interstate and enabling easy access for customers. The site is on the southeast side of the Interstate and is currently open but has already been turned from farm land to an industrial zoning.

City infrastructure is already in place and has already seen some development in the form of a BMW motorcycle dealership. The “clean slate” of the existing dealerships is seen as an approach to directly show the differences and advantages that sustainability can have on a design. Both sites will be analyzed and placed in the site model, and then by the start of the schematic design a single site will be chosen. Currently the site is home to a Toyota and a Chrysler / Jeep dealership with a Volkswagen dealership in the construction process.

The client has not been singled out but must have the following criteria:
• a large manufacturer of vehicles in the U.S.
• a commitment to the environment
•marketing and promotion of green characteristics in their vehicle line
• research of clean sustainable characteristics for their vehicle line
• set a high standard for design
• have a consumer market in Omaha, NE or the Midwest U.S.
• be willing to set a standard for design
• possibly be currently seeking a new location and facility

Possible candidates for a client include Ford, Nissan/Infinity, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Honda/Acura or Toyota/Lexus. A Lexus dealership seems the most logical due to its proximity of the Toyota dealership, Lexus's parent company, and its commitment to the environment with its new hybrid SUVs.

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