Power UP

In 1962, retailers Walmart, Target, and K-Mart all opened their first large discount stores in response to the rapidly growing suburban market. Thus emerged the big box, the retail type perhaps most associated with suburbia because its form—big and low and dependent upon large tracts of land for both building and parking—both resulted from and embodied the exploding commodity culture often associated with mid-20th century American settlement. In addition, its vast, convenient parking reflected a particular automotive lifestyle also strongly associated with post-war suburbia.

But as the quintessentially suburban big box moves into denser urban conditions, whether in cities or in urbanizing suburbs, it must generate new versions that hybridize urban constraints and suburban formats. In particular, the suburban “power center”–a set of large horizontal boxes and parking lots–must instead, Power Up.

Power Up proposes that the most suburban of forms and lifestyles can be a counter-intuitive agent of urbanization, here through a “stack” of big boxes, inspired by both the distinctive form and generic interiors of SANAA’s New Museum in New York City. Easily accessible parking remains a key component to this hybridized lifestyle, and is accommodated within the stack. Importantly, the stack adapts to its specific conditions; as such, it can be a “short stack,” a   “tall stack,” or anywhere in-between.

Further, Power Up explores the graphic possibilities that emerged from the seminal book Learning From Las Vegas, in which Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour argue that a new communicative architecture of the commercial strip can take the form of either the “duck” or the “decorated shed.” Power Up asks: why not be both? The stack creates a powerful form that can contain almost any program, AND amplifies its broadcasting through ornamentation inspired by the generic products in Repo Man.

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