How Communities Are Reusing the Big Box

As superstores abandon buildings in order to move into bigger stores, what will become of the
walls that they leave behind? It is within the answer to this question that we are seeing the
resourcefulness and creativity of communities dealing with a challenge that isemerging all
over the country: the empty big box store. Through travel, the study of community, and exploration of
the urban landscape, Julia is researching the way people build their towns, creating the context
fortheir own lives.

Julia Christensen began investigating How Communities are Re-Using the Big Box
in the winter of 2003. Since then, she has been traveling around the country,
visiting the sites and meeting the people who are making these transformations possible.
She has been collecting a growing collection of photographs, interviews, stories, and
documents relating to the renovations, and has been giving presentations
in these communities about how other towns are dealing with this common situation.
Her book, Big Box Reuse, was published by MIT Press in November of 2008.
Julia continues to develop her collection of artifacts, while exploring
Communities are Re-Using the Big Box.

Big box buildings densely populate the landscape of the United States. Ultimately, we need to
change the course of this development, before our land is completely overrun with this corporate,
homogenous structure. The structures
are environmentally hazardous, as they remove square miles
of green space, replace it with impermeable surfaces, and harness the auto-centric culture of one-stop
shopping. Unfortunately, we do not have a magic
wand with which to wish away existing structures.
In fact, they are not easily recyclable, and according to the Los Angeles Times, the energy used to
tear down an existing building and
replace it with a new one would power the city of Los Angeles for
ten years. By looking at how communities are using these structures, and by exploring design issues from
the ground up, we can begin to steer the future design of our built environment with informed
awareness, as cities
and towns learn to regain control over the design decisions that shape the future of their communities.

The individual pages in this site begin to explain the case studies that visited within the first
year of the project, from 2003-2004. Some of these initial site visits are variations on the "big box"--
some are strip malls, or olderdepartment stores, which do not technically fit into the definition of "big box."
These variations are mainly due to miscommunication about what the structure actually was prior to
her visit, but all are a reflection of the public's idea of "big box," and each location offers us ideas that
can inform our discussion about the big box phenomenon in the United States. This website offers
the assemblage of information gathered in that first year of the project.

WIKIREUSE, a "wiki" version of the online big box reuse site was recently launched at Users of the site
can add their own reuse stories to the big box reuse database.

back to big box map