Big Box Reuse, published in 2008 by MIT Press, is a big square book that match the title. The author, Julia Christensen, provides fascinating statistics about the change in our cultural and consumer landscape since 1962.
The construction of big-box stores of 20,000 to 28,000 square feet comprise a good part of the American consumer landscape. The stores offer bargains; however, Big Box Reuse asks, “What happens when the big-box stores leave town?” Christensen aptly points out that these constructions do not readily lend themselves to any other use. At 150,000 square feet or more, there are few ventures that need that much space. With the single-use construction, it is also difficult to carve up the space into smaller areas. Communities are grappling with what to do with these giant physical structures. Christensen offers solutions to convert the big boxes into libraries, Head Start centers, and senior resource centers. Charter schools, indoor raceways, courthouses, and churches are now occupying the spaces of uber-consumerism.
Christensen’s focus is aimed directly at the big-box stores initial design of the stores—in that she argues that the structures should be designed with a reuse plan already in place. The communities that are left with these buildings will have a ready plan to make better informed decisions after a big-box store leaves town. And yet, Christensen asks the obvious question too: Do we want a landscape dotted with renovated big box stores at all?
Reviewers admire Christensen’s heartfelt environmentalism, and yet they criticize her thinking. Some critics point out that the big boxes intrinsically change the way small towns and communities operate because the big box locations require more driving for consumers. They disrupt the idea of neighborhoods. The big-boxes, in other words, launch a set of social problems beyond the reuse of physical structures. Reviewers also note problems with the illustrations and her interviewing local people about the big-box projects. Her inattention to certain details reflect a missed opportunity to follow up on the responsibilities of urban design. Big Box Reuse is tight analysis that could offer the readers more conclusions.