Big Box Reuse
MIT Press, 2008
By Julia Christensen
America is becoming a container landscape of big boxes connected by highways. When a big box store upsizes to an even bigger box “supercenter” down the road, it leaves behind more than the vacant shell of a retail operation; it leaves behind a changed landscape that can’t be changed back. Acres of land have been paved around it. Highway traffic comes to it; local roads end at it. With thousands of empty big box stores spread across America, these vistas have become a dominant feature of the American landscape. In Big Box Reuse, Julia Christensen shows us how ten communities have addressed this problem, turning vacated Wal-Marts and Kmarts into something else: a church, a library, a school, a medical center, a courthouse, a recreation center, a museum, or other more civic-minded structures. In each case, what was once a shopping destination becomes a center of community life. Christensen crisscrossed America identifying these projects, then photographed, videotaped, and interviewed the people involved. The first-person accounts and color photographs of Big Box Reuse reveal the hidden stories behind the transformation of these facades into gateways of community life. Whether a big box store becomes a “Senior Resource Center” or a museum devoted to Spam (the kind that comes in a can), each renovation displays a community’s resourcefulness and creativity–but also raises questions about how big box buildings affect the lives of communities. What does it mean for us and for the future of America if the spaces of commerce built by a few monolithic corporations become the sites where education, medicine, religion, and culture are dispensed wholesale to the populace?
Amazon Best of the Month, December 2008: From Kentucky to California, the construction of tens of thousands of big box stores over the past few decades has transformed the American landscape. What happens when one of these stores goes bust or moves to a super-sized retail center a few miles down the road? Right now communities across the country are confronted with the challenge of repurposing these enormous physical structures, their acres of parking lot, and the accompanying network of roadways. Intrepid artist and writer Julia Christensen traveled all over the United States to discover the surprising story of how some of them have creatively met that challenge. Big Box Reuse–an appropriately big, square book–describes in words, photographs, and building plans the reincarnation of 10 former retail behemoths into facilities ranging from an indoor raceway and a Spam museum to a health center, library, and charter school. In each case study, Christensen documents and reflects deeply on the big box transformation with respect to each locale’s particular socio-economic, political, and cultural history. Big Box Reuse presents “outside the box” thinking on American culture and commerce, community activism, and savvy and sensible redesign of our built environment. –Lauren Nemroff
From Publisher’s Weekly
Since 1962, big-box stores of 20,000 to 28,000 square feet have dotted the American landscape, their bare-boned appearance, according to artist Christensen, promising bare-boned bargains. But after the box is vacated, sometimes after only a few years, a community is left with a decision about what to do with the structure. Christensen focuses on empty Wal-Mart and Kmart stores to discuss 10 imaginative and successful projects converting boxes into a library, a Head Start center and a senior resource center, among others. Charter schools have moved into empty big boxes, as have churches, for whom, Christensen says, the big box may be the revival tent of the twenty-first century. Christensen’s stories can become repetitive, but the themes she draws from her investigations carry conviction and a sense of urgency. She argues that eventual reuse should be a part of a big box’s original design, and that information on reuse should be disseminated so municipalities can make informed decisions. But she also questions whether we should want a future landscape of renovated big box stores: We are what we build, she says. 77 color photos. (Nov.)
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“Christensen has seen the future.”―Washington Post
“It is a smart book, one that speaks to the zeitgeist: the ultimate form of recycling, after all, is recycling of place. But more than that, it is an enthusiastic book. True to form, Big Box Reuse is a book for many collections.”―ForeWord Magazine
“… the stories [Christensen] tells of suburban revitalization provide strong evidence that suburbs and small towns are evolving in startling new ways. Big Box Reuse gives that phenomenon welcome and serious attention.”―Cleveland Plain Dealer
“This timely book reveals stories of community activism and the attempts to recontextualize massive pieces of architecture into something that one might call the public domain. Whether through adaptation, reuse, or new definitions of program, these attempts are dealing with the consequences of ‘siteless,’ and often senseless, meta-planning. This publication is an essential read for everyone who acknowledges that there is a world beyond 3d-modeling and surface adjustments.”―Markus Miessen, Principal Studio Miessen, and Director, Architectural Association Winter School Middle East
Hardcover: 240 pages Publisher: The MIT Press (October 10, 2008) Language: English ISBN-10: 0262033798 ISBN-13: 978-0262033794 Product Dimensions: 10 x 1 x 10 inches