Garza Reza, Oscar (2023-11). Rethinking the Box. Master's Thesis. Thesis uri icon


  • Rethinking the box explores the idea of revitalizing a vacant grocery store using a more human- and nature-centered approach to create a residential development that promotes social interaction, diversity, environmental care, and active living. Retail stores are typically a reflection of pure capitalistic motives and consumption behaviors, where the quest for the greatest and fastest return of investment becomes the main driver of the design decisions. These projects also reflect how modern societies function, with the automobile as the dominant mechanism for the development of proportions with an interior atmosphere distant from the outdoor environment, surrounded by a vast asphalt plain dedicated to no living beings. However, conventional retail stores are ceasing to be an important component of contemporary societies. This "retail apocalypse" is now leaving thousands of boxy-looking buildings as concrete inaccessible islands scattered across the American nation. And to make matters worse, the COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating the situation as the ecommerce experiences a substantial growth propelled by social distancing and isolation mandates imposed by the government. Experts expect that 1 in 4 shopping centers will close by 2025 (Coresight Research & Credit Suisse, 2020).Moreover, the shortage of affordable houses in the U.S. continues to be present, with only 36% of the 10.9 million renter households living in extreme low-income conditions having access to affordable dwellings. This means that there is currently a shortage of 7 million affordable and available rental homes. Around 7.7 million extremely low-income renter households spend more than half of their revenue on rent and utilities (NLIHC, 2020). This situation is expected to worsen due to the economic distress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. An unprecedented housing crisis might be on the way as an estimated of 30 to 40 million Americans are currently at risk of eviction (Aspen Institute, 2020).The present study seeks to create a potential response to the housing crisis by reusing and adapting these retail spaces, and it is motivated by a rejection to prevailing demolishing practices, generic and individualistic domestic architecture, and vehicle-oriented urbanism. Three major research questions are explored during the process: 1. How can a vacant retail store be transformed into a residential development? 2. How can architecture support communities in the creation of intergenerational relationships in the domestic environment? 3. How can the built environment support people in the development of healthy lifestyle? The goals of the study are to demonstrate that vacant retail sites can indeed be converted into sustainable and inclusive residential developments suited to every age group, test how alternative housing configurations and amenities could support intergenerational relationships without compromising the well-being, freedom, and privacy of different age groups, and explore and implement architectural strategies that support active lifestyles. The project consists in the design of an intergenerational community accommodating multiple zoning to create a pedestrian-oriented destination that supports active lifestyles. Nature is incorporated to support the health of the population and reduce the concrete footprint that dominates the urban landscape, which is likely to be a major cause for the origination of new infectious diseases (Quinney, 2020).The design process was guided by the following ideals: eliminate the grey dominance of the site by reintroducing nature, achieve an inclusive environment by integrating features that support the routines of both residents and outsiders of all age groups, accomplish a pedestrian-oriented development by limiting the circulation of vehicles, reject the conventional restrictions and divisions of current domestic environments, and support collectivism by strategically incorporating shared diverse amenities and architect

publication date

  • September 2023