…Take as an analogous example their symbiotic partner, the big box store. As I learned in artist Julia Christensenâ€™s new book, â€œBig Box Reuse,â€ when a big box store like Wal-mart or Kmart outgrows its space, it is shut down. It is, apparently, cheaper to start from scratch than to close for renovation and expansion, let alone decide at the outset to design a store that can easily be expanded (or contracted, as the case may be).
So not only does a community get a newer, bigger big box, it is also left with quite an economic and environmental eyesore: a vacant shell of a retail operation, tons of wasted building material and a changed landscape that canâ€™t be changed back.
The silver lining in Christensenâ€™s study are the communities sheâ€™s discovered that have proactively addressed the massive empty shells theyâ€™ve been left with, turning structures of anywhere from 20,000 to 280,000 square feet into something useful: a charter school, a health center, a chapel, a library. (And, in Austin, Minn., a new Spam Museum.)
The repurposing of abandoned big-box stores is easier to wrap oneâ€™s head around: one can envision within a single volume (albeit a massive one) the potential to become something else.