RE-USE | Warehouses and Big Boxes

Posted on 04/05/2009


Yesterday I attended a roller derby bout at the Morayfield Park Leisure Centre, north of Brisbane. In keeping with many of the structures along Morayfield Road, the Leisure Centre turned out to be a purpose built ‘big box’ style building housing an indoor sporting/multipurpose facility (pictured below). My tolerance for the expedient architecture of big box forms changes dramatically when I appreciate what happens inside the structure, especially as a community event. However, what remains unforgiveable is the deplorable pedestrian environment: the sight of people walking on the road in poorly lit streets at 9.30pm because there is no footpath and the grass on the verge is overgrown.


As you can see, this building is a big shell, with offices and services nested outside the sports arena. I am familiar with Julia Christensen’s project Big Box Re-Use as well as other projects investigating the fate of shopping malls and big box structures during a period of retail decline. Christensen’s book documents 10 case studies of big box re-use including the relocation of a library into a Kmart site in Lebanon, Missouri. As Christensen explained, “the complex also includes a Route 66 museum which is a great source of pride to the community, being right on the old historic Route 66. They started this museum as the draw for enthusiasts that cruise through there. They also have a themed cafe. So they tried to develop a structure that would bring people to the library for multiple reasons and kind of get them to stay all day. They’re very successful and it was also a huge community-building effort–a lot of people donated time and energy and resources and skills to building the place.” Another of my favourite case studies is that of the Spam Museum.

In my local outer suburban area of Aspley, I’ve been noticing the appearance of empty shops and warehouses so began to wonder about the possibility of small scale and large scale, temporary and permanent re-use of these spaces for projects, activitie, facilities etc. One building (pictured below from the most unflattering angle possible) that has particularly attracted my attention is an empty warehouse situated in the Homemaker Centre. Until recently, it was the site for a bedding retailer, so you can imagine its inner volume.


The picture was taken to demonstrate the insensitive impact on the streetscape of this kind of structure and the lack of care taken in softening its impact. Also note the bus stop on the side of the road. However, I am now wondering how the building might be put to some alternative use and whether there is any local will to investigate this possibility. This whole area is flat and surrounded by carpark. It would bring mixed use and out of business hours use into the area which is  intimidating at night time (pictured below).


Retrofitting, re-skinning and re-using can bring new uses to old and underused buildings as well as bring them into an economy of sustainability (putting aside the greater issue of the suburban form and this kind of big box development being unsustainable). Also, adaptive re-use of warehouses isn’t a particularly new phenomenon with many inner urban warehouses transformed into residential or mixed use complexes. I also noted the outer suburban Delfin Warehouse development used as a site for the Home Loan project. Retrofitting tends to be a more cost-effective way of providing community infrastructure and services. A structure like this could, potentially, be suitable as a training or competition space for wheelchair sports or other indoor sports like indoor rockclimbing. It might be suitable as a cinema. In a contradiction of scale, it could even be fitted out as a resource/incubation centre for small business, social innovation and social enterprise, a plan that had been proposed for the nearby QUT campus in Carseldine which closed earlier this year.

A powerpoint presentation was also produced.

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