Posts tagged with "Walmart":

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What can architects learn from Walmart’s fulfillment centers?

Architects are fascinated with infrastructure, or better yet, anxious about it. Infrastructure is far larger and more pervasive, blanketing the earth with its concrete and asphalt, yet it also threatens architecture with irrelevance. Infrastructural architecture is dangerous: The ubiquitous big box that houses warehouses, distribution centers, data centers, and processing plants is optimized to the point that architects are excluded. Perhaps because of this, condition studies of the big box and its implications have been wanting. Jesse LeCavalier’s The Rule of Logistics: Walmart and the Architecture of Fulfillment helps fill the void. As the title makes clear, LeCavalier focuses on the world’s largest retailer, Walmart, and how its overarching obsession with optimizing logistics manifests itself in built form. For those interested in the dangerous encounter of architecture and infrastructure, the book is worth reading. While LeCavalier’s book is an academic study, it eschews the empty and abstruse theorizing that has marked such recent efforts, producing the best book on architecture and infrastructure of this decade. The book is composed of five chapters bracketed by an introduction and conclusion: “Logistics,” which delineates LeCavalier’s thesis, followed by “Buildings,” “Locations,” “Bodies,” and “Territory,” each of which explores how Walmart embodies logistics in a different condition. Logistics, LeCavalier argues, has taken over from mass production and become the new organizational paradigm for our age. Where mass production was formed around relatively stable, physical forms of organization, logistics is ever mutable and contingent, constantly responding to the conditions it encounters. The built products of logistics embody this condition, with the stability of carefully designed envelopes giving way to what he calls “a constantly transforming network of calibrated and interconnected interiors.” It’s this point that’s crucial to those of us hoping to understand the “big box.” This term “big box,” LeCavalier points out, belies the complexity of the horizontal surfaces of floorplate and roof, which gives the building its infrastructural capacity to optimize throughput, notably by eliminating as much of the back area of the store as possible. In opposition to any idea of architecture as autonomous form, the exterior adapts to make the store tolerable whatever the local condition. LeCavalier painstakingly details case studies of the negotiations Walmart makes with local planning authorities and the resulting effect on the (endlessly mutable) building envelopes of its stores. LeCavalier observes that, in a paradoxical twist, form and building envelope take precedence at Walmart’s data centers since the rapid rate of change of digital technology ensures that those buildings need to be planned before a final layout can be envisioned. But to talk of Walmart’s data centers as formally intended is itself a paradox: The goal of these structures is to disappear through camouflage. At times I wanted the book to be more architectural—to have larger illustrations and in color. Recently many of University of Minnesota’s publications have given the impression of being published on demand by Blurb or Lulu and the squat format and the quality of the cover underscores this. But ultimately this allows the book to be more manual-like, more like the precipitation of information from a manual of logistics into physical form and that fits the subject matter well, so I can’t complain. More disappointing is that the drawings by LeCavalier, one of our most accomplished draughtsmen, are small and hard to read, but again this seems a decision of the press rather than the author. Moreover, had the book been a glossy architectural publication, it might have compromised the argument. Still, I wished to see LeCavalier brilliant analytic axonometric drawings included in some form. Perhaps a future publication will follow containing more of these.
The Rule of Logistics is an important book. For too long, what passes for the avant-garde has chased form for form’s sake, to embody the triumphant exuberance of the city and its neoliberal boosters. But last November, blue lost and red won, urban elites were undone by the heartland working class, the culture of Whole Foods shown up by that of Walmart. LeCavalier’s book, published some months before the election, underscores that the heartland is as permeated by the forces of the network as the urban center. The Rule of Logistics allows us to decode the spatial implications of this condition even as it suggests that architecture needs to learn from the architecture of the big box, much like it did from grain silos and factories in the early 20th century. Just as the election served as a wake-up call to well-intentioned urban liberals, The Rule of Logistics reminds architects that the most advanced work in the built domain is not in the city but in the sprawl outside it, that it’s not cool form but efficient logistical operations that pave the way to our future. The Rule of Logistics: Walmart and the Architecture of Fulfillment by Jesse LeCavalier University of Minnesota Press, $30.00 Kazys Varnelis is the director of the Network Architecture Lab and cofounder of AUDC, as well as the author of several books about infrastructure and network culture.
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Adaptive Reuse, Aisle 7: How An Empty Big Box Can Give Rise to Community

An average Walmart tops 100,000 square feet. With more than 600 stores nationwide, the company has a mighty footprint. And when a store goes under, it can be somewhat of a crater in the local real estate market. One Walmart in McAllen, Texas—about 15 miles from the Mexican border—got a major facelift from Minneapolis-based Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle, who also have an office in Marysville, Md. They won an ALA/IIDA Library Interior Design Award for their work converting the defunct big box store into a library. Now instead of groceries and inexpensive consumer goods, a 124,500-square-foot Walmart skeleton houses the McAllen Library. It’s the largest single-story library in the U.S., which could have left readers lost in the cavernous space instead of lost in a book. To remedy that problem, the firm adopted some of the building’s original programming: They separated meeting rooms, staff areas, and other programs into quadrants, providing wayfinding with colorful signage and two spines that bisect the building. A number of graphic-patterned ceiling elements delineate genre categories, while a patterned wood ceiling runs the length of the building. One month after the new library opened, library registration increased 23 percent. Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle has also rehabbed five abandoned buildings in Philadelphia’s Navy Yards for Urban Outfitters headquarters.
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Quick Clicks> Cycle, East, Out, Opposites

Solar Cycle. The Dutch dream up a ways to capture latent energy beneath bike tires. Go East Young Man. With the economy in the States still somewhat sour, the good news for West Coast firms is in the East, the Far East, writes AOL's Daily Finance.  AIA's Scott Frank spills the goods for Danny King. Walled Out. It was hard to miss the spirited crowd on Chambers Street yesterday as three City Council committees held a joint hearing on Wal-Mart’s proposed move into New York  held. Wal-Mart was a no show. The line to get in stretched down the block. And Council Speaker Quinn blasted away. Today's Daily News editorial found the whole drama, well, dramatic. Polar Opposites. Ben Thompson and Paul Rudolph were cut from the same Modernist cloth, under the influence of Gropius, but the two took different paths. One was from the north the other from the south, one standoffish, the other a team player. One a sculpture, the other an entertainer. In Architecture Boston, David N. Fixler explores how their forms function.
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University of Arkansas′ Big-Box Bacalaureate

Walmart has been trying to expand into cities like New York and Washington, D.C. for a while now sparking debate about big box retail in urban centers along the way. To find space, Walmart will likely have to abandon the supercenter in favor of a more petite space, but slimming down to a mere 3,500 square feet sounds pretty extreme. Billed as the smallest Walmart in the world, the new store opened last Friday and shares space in a new mixed-use building with boutiques and a froyo shop and shoulders right up to the sidewalk rather than the ubiquitous parking lot of traditional big-box retail. Packed into the store's 3,500 square feet is a full-service pharmacy, replacing a recently closed campus pharmacy and general goods and groceries. (That's only 2% the size of a typical 185,000 square foot Supercenter!) If this a model that could work in urban areas around the country? Advertising Age speculates that the Walmart on Campus store could be a sign for a leaner, meaner Walmart of the future, citing CEO Bill Simon's calls for testing out new varieties of small stores. Could you be running down to the corner Walmart in years to come? Designed by Herbert Lewis Kruse Blunck Architecture of Des Moines, Iowa and Amirmoez Foster Hailey Johnson Architects of Fayetteville, Arkansas, the new Garland Avenue Shops include the 30,000 square foot UA Bookstore along with 20,000 square feet of retail space, of which Walmart has taken 3,500. A slat-covered, 1,500 spot parking deck hovers above the retail space and a central courtyard with outdoor seating and bike racks faces away from the street. (More photos of the building on flickr.) [ Via Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space, photo by Walter Lang. ]
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Waffling on Walmart

The story surrounding plans for a new Walmart on Chicago's Far South Side keeps changing faster than the retailer's prices. Last week we noticed that its attempts to break into Brooklyn were eerily similar to those in the Windy City, though we failed to mention how the linchpin of the current argument, that no one would dare locate in Pullman, does not hold true in East New York, as the Gateway Center already has a Target and a few other big box stores. But according to the Chicago Reader, that may not be the case in Pullman either. The paper did the unthinkable and—gasp!—called up the other retailers who the local alderman said he contacted, including IKEA, Dominick's, and Jewel-Osco, to confirm that they had turned Alderman Anthony Beale down. None said that was the case, though a few said they could neither confirm nor deny. Walmart, however, remains undeterred, and the Sun-Times reports it has even gone to the unprecedented step of setting up a meeting with local labor leaders to try and broker a last minute deal that will save its plans for a South Side development from being scuttled yet again.
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Walmart? Fugedaboutit!

In the last Midwest issue, we recounted Walmarts struggles to infiltrate urban centers, notably in Chicago. But the world's largest retailer and the nation's largest employer has also been eying New York for years, and the Daily News reports that it is making a new push in Brooklyn, which has already met resistance from locals and labor without even being officially announced. The weird thing, though, is how eerily similar there approach is in East New York as with the Pullman project on Chicago's Far South Side. Both are meant to be the anchor tenant in a larger mixed-use development that involves affordable housing (the former is part of Gateway II, the latter Pullman Park) located in the fringes of their respective cities, places that have been historically economically depressed. This puts Walmart in a better position of arguing that the area is in need of jobs, any jobs, not to mention affordable housing, so how dare politicians and unions try to stop it. Whether it works in Brooklyn or the Far South Side, only time will tell, but if Kingsbridge is any indication, it probably won't happen in the Five Boroughs any time soon. Pullman, however, might be an entirely different story, as Mayor Daley continues to agitate for the project's approval.