David Baker Architects


An Ode to the Podium

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Image: Bruce Damonte/David Baker Architects

by Caroline Souza, Associate

Most of DBA’s buildings are “podium construction”—that is, the first one or two floors are a concrete “podium” structure with the upper floors, generally framed in wood, sitting upon this podium.

Podiums allow us to make bigger, taller buildings than we could with just wood construction. We love them because they give us the design flexibility to make great ground floors—critical to urban vitality and the success of mixed-use buildings.


Walls Don't Need to Stack

The walls of the wood residential floors above the podium don’t need to continue down to the ground, so the podium can have different sized rooms than the floors above. This allows ground-floor spaces to be combined, divided, and recombined at a later date without affecting the structure of the building, which gives us flexibility in the design now as well as 20 years from now.

Image: Bruce Damonte/David Baker Architects

Many Different Uses

As concrete is not combustible, you can combine spaces in a concrete podium that would be difficult to accommodate in the upper wood floors. A non-comprehensive list of things we’ve put under our podiums:

  • Parking Garages
  • Transformer Rooms 
  • Cafés
  • Townhouses
  • Community Rooms
  • Daycare Centers
  • Social Service Offices
  • Artist Studios
  • Lofts
  • Theaters 
  • Medical Clinics
  • Hair Salons
  • Grocery Stores


Buy a Parking Garage, Get a Retail Podium Free!!!

Okay, “free” is an exaggeration, but once the contractor has already mobilized to pour the concrete parking garage, it’s a lot simpler and not much more expensive to keep going and pour a podium over the ground floor retail and common rooms at the same time.


Put a Courtyard on Top

You can put plantings and playgrounds on top of your parking garage, so residents can look out their windows onto leafy greens and happy children, instead of parked cars. Podium courtyards can be visual-access only, or enjoyed as an open space for the building.

Image: Mariko Reed

Height Makes Right

Wood construction gets expensive if the levels are much taller than 12 feet, but concrete can accommodate any floor-to-ceiling height you want. This allows us to fit a lot of great stuff in there.




10 feet is too low!

Retail spaces need 2 to 3 feet of HVAC space in the ceiling, so with a 10-foot height, your tenants would be squished under a 7’-6” ceiling. Units wouldn’t have enough room to raise the floor above the sidewalk, so passersby could look right into residential windows. 




12 feet is okay.

This is the lowest height for nice spaces. It allows a 9- to 10-foot retail space and there’s enough room for the residences to be elevated above the street. Plus the residences can have stoops! We love stoops because they’re happy and active, give residents a great sense of ownership, and allow people to chat with their neighbors.


17 feet is magic!


Suddenly, the retail and residential spaces can have lofts! Bonus: You can sneak in a second level of parking with car stackers.



20 feet is awesome magic!


Now your retail spaces get nice, comfortable mezzanines. You can fit an entire townhome, complete with stoops, on the residential side.

Activate the Edges

One of our main design philosophies is to "Activate the Edges." We have found podium height to be a key foundation for this strategy—a tall podium supports great-feeling, flexible spaces that support a range of active uses, enliven the building, and invigorate the streetscape.