Tag Archives: Chicago

Big box, meet big city

State Street adapts

Many Chicagoans gasped twice in the last five years–initially when famed local department store Carson Pirie Scott announced it was closing its downtown State Street flagship after over a century, and again once discount retailer Target announced it would lease the bottom two floors of the redeveloped historic structure (designed by Louis Sullivan in 1899, above).

Not your normal Target experience

The new store, which opened last week, is an example of a growing trend of big-box retailers opening new urban locations, as a saturated suburbia no longer offers opportunities for growth, and and inner-city populations are seen as the last under-served frontier (note in the interior shot from the Target above, both Sears and TJ Maxx are visible across the street). Rather than imposing suburban building models onto dense downtown environments, these retailers are inventing new urban models that are smaller, more flexible, and more compatible with pedestrian-friendly environments (see this recent article from the New York Times on the subject). The Target on State Street has been getting some good reviews for its sensitivity to the historic architecture, its well-designed storefronts, and the modest proportions of its famous logo.

Hey, urbanites deserve blue-light specials too

As Birmingham strives to entice more retail to the city center and adjacent neighborhoods,  retailers are increasingly primed to work with cities using solid urban design principles, rather than insisting on older, more suburban paradigms (above, the Kmart off of Astor Place in Manhattan, in the former Wanamaker’s Department Store). In a place like downtown Manhattan (or to a lesser degree downtown Chicago), the entry of big-box retailers has been controversial due to the preexisting network of independent retailers in those neighborhoods. In Birmingham, that network doesn’t widely exist, making the entry of new retailers a much more promising possibility–especially if we insist on the kind of good design for which, well, Target has made a name for itself.

Ground floor/basement of Pizitz Building, perhaps? As long as we can still fit in the V. Richard’s branch…

[thanks to New York Times for Target, chicagoist for Target interior, and locationresearch for Kmart]

Rooftop danish

An ambitious plan

Denmark’s capital Copenhagen has become the first Scandinavian city to mandate green roofs on all new buildings with slopes of less than 30 degrees. You can read the article here–courtesy of inhabitat.

One of the reasons why we don’t have more green roofs in Birmingham is the lack of incentives. While green roofs offer many benefits–they reduce the need for costly storm water systems; they provide great insulation; they prolong the life of the roof; and they help reduce urban temperatures and clean the air–they are relatively costly to install, especially for smaller projects. Chicago had a great plan that gave small residential and commercial projects grants for installing green roofs; Cincinnati offers low-cost loans for commercial green roofs. We are way behind Europe, however, where cities like Stuttgart, Germany have a smart combination of mandates and incentives resulting in green roofs everywhere.

It can be done here too

Despite the lack of local incentives, we were able to design the green roof (shown above) on a new townhouse in downtown Birmingham. It’s one small step forward to reducing energy costs for all of us. Now, if Birmingham could create a Department of the Environment, with a super-progressive director backed by the mayor and council—we’ve got some great citizen and designer interest. We just need a program and some incentives!

Birmingham: the Copenhagen of the Deep South? Dream big.

[thanks to inhabitat for the Copenhagen photo]


I couldn’t resist adding this photo from the December, 1953 edition of National Geographic, showing an early green roof on the top of the A.E. Staley Manufacturing Company, Decatur, IL:

An early pioneer