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Big Box Reuse

8 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0262033794
ISBN-10: 0262033798
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Editorial Reviews Review

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 Publishers 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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • 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
  • Shipping Weight: 3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #746,225 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By James M. Frymark on March 2, 2009
Format: Hardcover
The different case studies presented evidences that communities, when working together and involving all those who have a stake in a project, can accomplish what may have been thought of as "beyond reach". It is clear that in each of the case studies, creativity is critical and proves that sometimes dreams can come true. Being familiar with one of the case studies, I can say that the information presented is accurate and a good reflection of the trials and tribulations encountered when making the dream become reality.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer VINE VOICE on May 13, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a developer and consultant working on some of these surplus big boxes I looked forward to reading the book. What I found was a plethora of unconventional ideas, well presented. Well beyond the scope of what I expected.

I thought some of the text drifted into unsupported political correctness, but that's not unusual with planners and dreamers. It comes with the gifts of their refreshing zeal to pursue new directions.

By way of background three factors have generated an abundance of empty "big boxes" across the land.

Perhaps the most prolific generator is Walmart. Few recall that they started with 30,000 SF stores in small communities in the south. Before long the 30,000 SF stores were abandoned in favor of 40,000 to 60,000 stores. Several decades and iterations later the 200,000 SF superstore became the model of choice.

At each evolution Walmart abandoned the smaller stores and left them with grim landlords or, where they were owned by Walmart, put on the market for sale. An interesting strategy of Walmart is that they do not speculate in old stores. Typically they put them on the market and then keep reducing the price until they sell.

Where Walmart vacates a store with with a continuing lease obligation they may leave the store vacant (they often put restrictions on replacement tenants) or work with the landlord to subsidize the sale or lease of the property as a way of eliminating their lease obligation.

Since Walmart started in the south, the vacant 30,000 boxes first appeared there. Aa a result a cottage industry was built by a limited number of real estate professionals who gained experience dealing with the properties and the opportunities they presented.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By M. A. Newman on August 19, 2011
Format: Hardcover
As someone who has spent a majority of his career working in the design/architecture press, I was very excited to come across this book as this has always been a subject I've been interested in, especially the "green" aspects of reusing pre-existing structures.
What I found when I dove into this book can only be described as disappointing.
The photography is horrible! Most of the photos look like they were taken with a disposable camera purchased at one of the featured Wal-Marts or K-Marts before they shuttered! Aside from the quality of the photos, the mere selection of photos is a joke. For a book that purports to give the details of "before and after" reuse, there are very few photos that adequately show similar shots of the previous structure and the new, reimagined structure. Also, there was only one project where the floor plans and architectural drawings were featured, a component that I feel is essential if the author and the publisher expect this book to have any real use by students of architecture.
It should be added that in 85% of the cases, the new versions of these big-box shells were hardly an improvement--a flea market? A day-care center with a playground on PAVEMENT? If anything "Big Box Reuse" doesn't so much show innovative ideas and methods for effective architecture rehabilitation as it shows how depressing the state of architecture and design has become in the United States when it's easier to simply reuse an abandoned Wal-Mart--itself, no prize in the world of design--rather than create something from the ground up.
Also, it should be noted that there are other big box stores in the U.S. other than K- and Wal-Marts; what about the abandoned Circuit Citys? Old Sears or Montgomery Ward's? Maybe a previous Linens N Things that was turned into a gym?
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Format: Hardcover
As a real estate pro selling fully-functional properties, I've often wondered what would an owner do with an abandoned Walmart or Kmart. The store is empty and the parking lot is desolate but with the author's view not on the building but on the center of gravity created by the property and its inherent infrastructure, the adaptive re-use of the property is given new energy.

Big Box Reuse by Julia Christensen surprised me with the fact that even though these specific properties are not used by the big box retailer that they were built for, often the attractiveness of the location before construction is enhanced by the roads and other businesses that were brought because of the big box retailer.

However, an economic reality for the owner who leased the building originally to the big box retailer is that they may almost never find a replacement tenant that will pay as much to lease the building. Replacement tenants may pay only 10-20% of the big box lease amount. So, owners should expect that unless there's a significant investment in upgrades the value of the property drastically falls when the original big box retailer decides not to renew their lease.

Another good book on the subject is "Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs. It has a forward by Richard Florida whom I consider to be the leading thinker about people and their spaces (and author of The Rise of the Creative Class).
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