Reimagining Spaces: Housing in Big Box Retail

02 - BIG BOX - Costco Atwater copy

Originating in the 1960s, the big box retail model has become a signature of the American retail environment. The United States holds roughly 8.5 billion sf of retail space or 25 sf per person. As of this writing, retail analysts say that Wal-Mart operates roughly 4,600 stores, Target over 1,800 stores and Best Buy almost 1,000. The rise of Amazon has even forced many of these big box retailers to close specific locations or shutter operations entirely. In 2017, when Toys “R” Us went bankrupt, the ensuing store closures left over 800 locations vacant.

Across the nation, the shells of empty big box retail locations and associated parking lots represent extraordinary opportunities for reuse. They sit on acres of undeveloped land with the potential for additional development and greening. These empty shells and their associated sites demonstrate another underutilized building typology with the potential to relieve a portion of the city's shortage of multifamily units and affordable housing, while also creating a micro-community with amenities and outdoor spaces that can serve the surrounding neighborhood. This concept looks at the potential of an existing 150,000 sf Costco and its associated surface parking on an 11.7 acre site on Los Feliz Boulevard in Atwater Village.

Site Plan Big Box and Street view

Retail to Housing & Community Spaces

This concept reuses the structure’s shell through the creation of two-story townhome-style residential units. To maximize the density of residential units while providing access to natural light and ventilation, we propose two communal courtyards at the center of the existing shell. The courtyards act as gathering hubs for the immediate community and include a pool and green space extending out to the greater site with landscaped primary circulation paths. Arranged around these central outdoor spaces and within the existing building shell are 110 two-story townhome units, ranging in size from 1,200 sf to 1,600 sf. Each unit has access to its own private patio space connecting residents to the outdoors and allowing for neighborly interactions. A restaurant, market, and last-mile distribution facility fills out a program that prioritizes the engagement of tenants and the immediate vicinity.

Urban Big Box Retail to Housing Concept Floor Plan

This next concept proposes a five-story new construction residential development closer to Los Feliz Boulevard, while the adjacent retail shells (a former Toys “R” Us and a current Best Buy) could be converted to multifamily use to further densify the site. We also explore potential ways to activate acres of surface parking to benefit the future residents and community at large.

Any required parking would remain on grade along the periphery of the existing buildings, while the proposed new construction residential development would host below-grade parking. The remainder of the surface parking area is dedicated to green space for residents and the public, including athletic fields, sports courts, community farming area, and a park.

Urban Big Box Retail to Housing concept

Amid the upheaval from today's pandemic, we see one clear implication for our industry: space design is entering a whole new era, and there's no going back. Since March 2020, Omgivning has been exploring the potential of this design evolution and reimagining three space types in particular: Workplace, Commercial and Multifamily.

Click here for our complete Urban Reprogramming commercial design report.

Click here for our complete Reimagining the Workplace design report.

Adaptive Reuse, Design