Throughout the United States, the problem of what to do with abandoned strip malls is a serious issue. Even as developers were building these dime a dozen complexes, the next best site was right around the corner. We’ve seen it time and time again – communities stuck with vast unusable land and derelict properties. Some of these strip malls are smaller, consisting of a handful of businesses. But even the smaller scenarios can present major reuse dilemmas. Then there are the much larger forsaken developments, such as Buffalo’s Central Park Plaza, that can scar neighborhoods indefinitely.
At the University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning, Stephanie Davidson, clinical assistant professor of architecture, and Georg Rafailidis, assistant professor of architecture, have not only come up with a practical solution for strip mall reuse, they have won a prestigious award in doing so. The two entered a progressive proposal, based on Buffalo’s Central Park Plaza (see history), into an international design competition called Strip Appeal, sponsored by by the University of Alberta’s City-Region Studies Centre.
The challenge was to “come up with unique ways to redesign and reuse strip malls.” In order to win the competition, the UB team took a very unusual approach regarding how to best transform the vacant property. The proposal was centered around the notion that a practical goal would have to revolve around being green and affordable – ultimately deconstruction and reconstruction. A process that Buffalo is getting good at. In other words, take apart the strip mall and itemize the materials. The bricks, steel, glass, wood, etc. could then be reused to build… housing or work places. Another angle that the team felt important was that the public be given free reign in designing and building, or ‘free zoning’.
Incredibly, over 100 entries from 11 countries were submitted, and the contest has raising the eyebrows of developers from as far away as Moscow. I’m not sure how the City of Buffalo feels about the idea that it “lift all zoning restrictions and give the property over to city dwellers.” It would be great if University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning could take the lead on such a project, and work with The City and the community to orchestrate such an inspiring project.
*The competition entries have been on display in Edmonton, Alberta, since December and a short list of entries, including that by Davidson and Rafailidis, will be touring the U.S. and Canada. “Free-Zoning” will be published in a book on the competition and also will be featured in Curb magazine, a regional publication of the U of A City-Region Studies Centre. Some of the competition entries, including “Free-Zoning,” are described and pictured online at www.strip-appeal.com.