Monday, December 7, 2009

Big Box Banter & Book Review-Part 1

We've all seen it: the once "big" box plat left for the new "bigger" box. Julie Christensen's 2008 book, "Big Box ReUse,", explores ways that these buildings are finding second life.

Disclaimer: as a designer and admitted city snob, I don't love the aesthetic affect of of Big Box stores on a town's landscape, and there are many ways that these developments could be done more sustainably, beautifully, or city-friendly. BUT, that said, these stores are successful for a reason, and I love cruising the aisles at Target as much as the next person. Besides, I am only speaking here of aesthetic considerations and not trying to bring up any political or economic issues related to Big Box Stores.

An example of a city-friendly Big Box (some may argue if there is such a thing, but let's say the most city-friendly) is the South Loop Target in Chicago.

Example of pedestrian entry to a big box store (follow link for photo credit)

Ideas for Big Box Reuse from Christensen's book include a spam museum, a library, a charter school, a church (with the old garden section as a basketball court court) and indoor raceway. See a slide show of images here.

The empty canvas for reuse is large: Wal-Mart Realty lists all of the buildings for sale or lease (for example, regular stores no longer needed after a super store was built nearby). This is enough to get any architect or developer's creative juices flowing.

A theme that arises in the book in the notion of the new Main Street, which is not the romanticized pedestrian mom and pop town center, but rather the main strip or drag, which today is more, if not entirely, oriented to the car. The advantage of an empty Big Box store, as was the case with a K-mart building turned public library in Missouri, is that it is located in this new "center" of town (and has plenty of parking spaces).

More ideas:

The Big Box Reuse website has links to projects around the country.

Indoor urban/suburban agriculture from Reburbia. Big Box Agriculture: A Productive Suburb by Forrest Fulton

"The example presented is a reversal of a function for a big box grocery store, from retailer of food – food detached from processes from which it came to be – to producer of food. The parking lot becomes a park-farm. The inside of the big box becomes a greenhouse and restaurant. Asphalt farming techniques allow for layering of soil, compost in containers on top of asphalt. The big box store’s roof is partially replaced with a greenhouse roof. Other details, such as the reversal of parking lot light poles into solar trees that hold photovoltaics can be implemented. One can imagine pushing a shopping cart through this suburban farm and picking your produce right from the vine, with the option to bring your harvest to the restaurant chef for preparation and eating your harvest on the spot. As other types of businesses become obsolete, out of fashion, they may need to imagine themselves as part of a productive suburb."

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