The Center for Land Use Interpretation Newsletter

CLUI Northeast Office in Troy NY


708Julia Christensen presenting lecture at the Center's Northeast Regional Office. CLUI photo

THE NORTHEAST REGIONAL OFFICE FOR the Center, which opened less than a year ago, is already becoming a critical base of operations for the development of programs and projects in the region. The office’s service area is the Northeastern United States Interpretive District, which includes the states of New England, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania.

While the interior of the building is not open to the public during regularly scheduled hours, the CLUI Northeast Regional Office has a storefront window that is visible from the street. This wall of glass enables the public to view programming that has been prepared for the space, during the day or night, including static displays and automatic multimedia presentations. Occasional lectures and meetings are held in the space as well. The office is located at 53 Third Street, in downtown Troy.

One evening in April, Julia Christensen, a graduate student at Rennselaer Polytechnic University, gave a talk at the CLUI Northeast Office called Default Architecture: America’s Reuse of the Big Box. She discussed the ways in which communities deal with the empty “superstore” buildings that often get left behind when retailers like Super Kmart or Wal-Mart vacate them, as is happening with greater frequency throughout the country. These monolithic, nearly windowless structures are too large for most other single tenant uses, so the reuse of them often requires some serious “outside the box” thinking.

Christensen has been travelling the country, visiting communities where the local empty big box has found interesting new uses. She has found them converted into churches, indoor flea markets, town offices, and recreation centers. Curious notions about business and the changing face of small towns in America are emerging from her study. For example, one of the most logical uses of an empty big box is another superstore retailer, but it seems that companies like Wal-Mart, which usually shuts its stores to move into another even bigger one nearby, keep control of their old buildings so that a competing retailer doesn’t move in. As a result, when they are not torn down, old Wal-Marts often end up with nonprofits like churches and municipal offices and services moving in. We look forward to seeing her completed study at the end of the next academic year.

The search continues for an interpretive park site in the Hudson River area, and discussions with various owners and agencies are ongoing. Meanwhile, a project focusing on the New Jersey Meadowlands is gaining ground.