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Hardcover | $60.00 Short | £41.95 | ISBN: 9780262033794 | 240 pp. | 10 x 10 in | 91 color illus.| October 2008

Look Inside

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 exits lead to it; local roads end at it. With thousands of empty big box stores spread across America, these sites 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, and other civic-minded structures. In each case, what was once a place to shop has become 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 it 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.


"Christensen has seen the future."—Joel Garreau, 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."—Aimee Houser, 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."—Steven Litt, Cleveland Plain Dealer


"Christensen's selection of stories from across the country creates aportrait of a contemporary America at apogee, and of people making what theycan with what they have been left with, as the tidal wave of consumerismwashes through their town. Appropriately too, this book is outside the box,and not from any definite place, like urban studies, architecture, or socialscholarship. Christensen approaches the issue freshly and directly, on apersonal level, like the communities and projects she describes. The book isan inspiring product of someone astounded by the variety and richness of theextra-ordinary American landscape, and who takes us on a journey, trying tofigure it out."
Matthew Coolidge, Director, Center for Land Use Interpretation

"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

"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 photosJulia Christensen is a true suburban-exploration hero."
Eve Kahn, contributing editor, I.D. Magazine


"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.