Big Box Reuse (MIT Press)
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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?
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
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