Land of 1000 Boxes

I could be wrong, but I’m willing to bet most people don’t head to Stavanger Drive for its unique “Sense of Place”. In fact, I’m sure that many folks would describe those environs as basically placeless, indistinguishable as they are from any number of North American city margins given over to the development of “Smart Centres”. That’s the brand name, mind you; the unofficial name for Stavanger is the same as it always was —? ‘Big-Box Land’. Not the most inspiring epithet.

Best Products

Which is why it’s such a pleasant surprise to see someone turn a Big Box into something interesting. Witness the portfolio of SITE Architects of New York, specifically their work in the 70’s on a series of showroom outlets for Best Products of Virginia. Owing as much to sculpture as they do to architecture, the Best showrooms played with the Big-Box form in ways no one was really expecting: with facades that actively peeled or slid off the building, parapets that crumbled into piles of brick, and even whole corners that sheared away from their bases in what seemed like some mad bid for material freedom. One building even opened up a crack in its edge to let the neighbouring woodland in, engaging the local landscape more literally than most designers ever intend to.

Sadly there are only two of these buildings remaining; Best Products went out of business in the 90’s and most of its showrooms were torn down thereafter.? But looking back on them, I’m struck by how SITE’s work both celebrated the scale of the Big-Box retail format and managed to slyly subvert it, gently poking fun at its bland functionality. You could say that the Best Projects tapped into, and then enhanced, a Sense of Place that lies dormant in every supposedly placeless commercial environment. In other words: there may be hope for Stavanger yet.

Today’s post ‘Land of 1000 Boxes’ has been written by James Staveley, a Landscape Architect at Tract Consulting, our sister company. If you would like to learn more about Best Product’s store, click here for a series of videos.

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