Big Box Reuse
- "Best of Category", General Trade Illustrated Books, in the 2009 New England Book Show sponsored by Bookbuilders of Boston.
- Winner, Jackets and Covers Category, 2009 AAUP Book, Journal, and Jacket Show.
240 pp., 10 x 10 in, 91 color illus.
- Published: October 10, 2008
What happens to the landscape, to community, and to the population when vacated big box stores are turned into community centers, churches, schools, and libraries?
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?
Tirelessly crisscrossing the nation, documenting resourceful and unexpected examples of reused big boxes, open-mindedly listening to the tales of schoolteachers, curators, preachers, or assorted activists, finding something interesting in the most deadened-seeming mall strips, taking hilariously deadpan photos—Julia Christensen is a true suburban-exploration hero.
Eve Kahn, contributing editor, I.D. Magazine
During Harvard's Project on the City, Rem Koolhaas investigated the physical effects of a social phenomenon: Shopping. An undertaking, which explored the effects of modernization on the contemporary city, it illustrated the failure of the design professions to adequately cope with today's changing physical landscapes. In this book, Julia Christensen is taking this project to the next level: What happens if urban development no longer accelerates, when the 'site' of shopping dies and corporations leave architectural carcasses behind? Scratching beyond the mainstream surface of most contemporary architecture publications, 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 programme, these attempts are dealing with the consequences of 'siteless' and, often senseless, meta-planning. It takes this reality beyond the idea of 'temporary use' and explores in detail the realities, difficulties, and potentials of the 'physical stuff' that has become vacant.
This publication is essential read for everyone who acknowledges that there is a world beyond 3d-modelling and surface adjustments. One can only hope that books like Big Box Reuse will renew an interest in what is really happening out there—spatially, politically, and socially. Spatial Practice today is more complex than ever, and it is this complexity that needs to become our agenda again.
Markus Miessen, Principal Studio Miessen, Partner of Miessen & Ploughfields, and Director, Architectural Association Winter School Middle East
Christensen's selection of stories from across the country creates a portrait of a contemporary America at apogee, and of people making what they can with what they have been left with, as the tidal wave of consumerism washes through their town. Appropriately too, this book is outside the box, and not from any definite place, like urban studies, architecture, or social scholarship. Christensen approaches the issue freshly and directly, on a personal level, like the communities and projects she describes. The book is an inspiring product of someone astounded by the variety and richness of the extra-ordinary American landscape, and who takes us on a journey, trying to figure it out.
Matthew Coolidge, Director, Center for Land Use Interpretation
Christensen has seen the future.
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.
... 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