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An Intern’s Perspective: the “Meadowlark” approach

February 7, 2014Architecture
Abandoned Big Box

Abandoned Big Box (image courtesy Memphis Que blog)

By Jessica Rousseau I am an architectural design intern at Meadowlark as well as a graduate student in architecture at the University of Detroit-Mercy. As a grad student, choosing a topic for my year-long thesis seemed like a daunting task. Starting with my interests in sustainable design and community development, I became curious about big-box architecture, specifically abandoned big-box stores. We’ve all seen them – huge rectangular buildings surrounded by asphalt with no windows and just one entrance. I started questioning what could be done with these giant boxes to make them more sustainable or more usable once abandoned.  I also questioned how such abandonment affects the surrounding community. Some innovative groups are finding productive solutions by transforming previously soulless boxes into community buildings such as libraries and city halls. However, I decided to take a more preventive approach to this kind of retail, namely developing smaller stores using sustainable building techniques that help their communities rather than being built at their expense. Corporations like Walmart and Target have already begun scaling down their stores to better suit walkable urban environments. However, with the exception of utilizing existing buildings for these new locations, these companies still are not creating sustainable or even aesthetically pleasing stores. Here is where my thesis intervention comes into play. Similar to Meadowlark’s tenet of creating custom homes specifically to the wants and needs of the customer while paying close attention to the surrounding land and developed spaces; I am designing a City Target (this is Target’s new urban marketing strategy, launched in 2012) specifically to the wants and needs of the Downtown Detroit community.   I am challenging the big-box notions by utilizing two existing buildings on Woodward Avenue and a vacant lot located just across the alley.  Here are my key design concepts:
City Target-Chicago

City Target-Chicago (rendering courtesy of Target)

  • Instead of the typical Target (120,000+ sf), I am designing small (<60,000 sf) and with more efficient space utilization – a design method that I have learned during my time at Meadowlark.
  • Instead of designing for the car-driving consumer, I am designing for the urban dweller with a pedestrian-friendly scale and approach, and a focus on public transit.
  • Instead of creating an uninspiring opaque box, I am utilizing windows and thought-provoking design to create a more dynamic and engaging experience for visitors.

How can you interject the “Meadowlark” approach to your life and the spaces you occupy?

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