Big Box Reuse
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?
About the Author
Julia Christensen is an artist whose work has been featured in the New York Times, the Globe and Mail, Preservation Magazine for the National Trust, and other publications; her art has been shown in galleries and museums nationwide. She is Henry R. Luce Visiting Professor of the Emerging Arts at Oberlin College and Conservatory.
—Eve Kahn, contributing editor, I.D. Magazine
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
—Matthew Coolidge, Director, Center for Land Use Interpretation
—Markus Miessen, Principal Studio Miessen, and Director, Architectural Association Winter School Middle East
"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.