Half Dose #26: Big Box Housing

The acceptance of sprawl as an almost necessary condition of urban life is becoming the norm in many architecture and planning circles. Rather than rallying against it, many practitioners and academics are asking "what can be done with it?" and "how can we make it better, more sustainable?"

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The image above illustrates one of the least endearing aspects of sprawl, but one that is a by-product of it as much as single-family houses surrounded by green lawns: the quick turnover and waste created by a consumer-driven economy. But if malls and big box retail stores, like the one above, are abandoned in favor of newer ways to get people to buy things, what's to be done with these old buildings and parking lots? David Woodhouse and his firm have one idea:

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Use it for affordable housing. David Woodhouse Architects proposed "colonizing the Big Box itself" for the Art Institute's Ten Vision exhibition a couple years ago, responding to Wal-Mart's "220,000,000 sf of empty space in the US."

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The architects partitioned the wide-open interior of a typical big-box store according to function (housing, open space, communal space), with the exterior similarly divided into play space, gardens, and parkland. Contending that "Big Box is the New Loft", the biggest obstacle is bringing light and ventilation to spaces not meant for either, unlike last centuries' factories, warehouse, schools, and other building types more easily adaptable to residential uses. The most obvious response is to go through the roof, an interesting solution that gives each residence its own slice of sky.

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For actual, built transformations of big box retail -- tending towards churches, schools, libraries, and other non-residential uses -- be sure to check out Big Box Reuse, via the link below.

:: David Woodhouse Associates
:: Ten Visions
:: theboxtank
:: Big Box Reuse


  1. Don't forget about Joel Garreau. He was on top of this over ten years ago. http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/3.12/edgier.cities_pr.html

  2. LTL also did a project that located houses atop big box retail, though you wouldn't guess that fact from the text:

    "In New Suburbanism individual houses reformat existing desires, creatively reclaiming the normative suburban spatial logic determined by commodified rooms and features...house arrangements are made through exploiting the reciprocal relationship between the figural commodity rooms and the free space of the public programs, initiating a spatial play not achieved in the stilted plans of typical homes and setting the stage for unprecedented mass customization...latent desires of suburbia are exploited, lamentable redundancies are absolved, and new sectional matings are established in continued pursuit of the American Dream."


  3. He has ABSD, Architectural BS disease.


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