Giving old strip malls back to the people
Stephanie Davidson and Georg Rafailidis have won an international competition for their innovative approach to the redesign and reuse of strip malls.
Two faculty members in the School of Architecture and Planning have won an international design competition with their proposal that the public be given free rein to take over derelict strip mall sites like Buffalo’s Central Park Plaza and design and build their own urban communities in a manner that would be, they say, not unlike the settling of the American frontier.“
This idea, and the plan to implement it, was developed by Stephanie Davidson, clinical assistant professor of architecture, and Georg Rafailidis, assistant professor of architecture, and it has won for them the first prize in the juried international architectural competition “Strip Appeal.”
The contest was launched by the University of Alberta’s City-Region Studies Centre in an effort to come up with unique ways to redesign and reuse strip malls. It reflects a growing interest in remaking commercial sites that, in many cities throughout North America—including Buffalo—are derelict, abandoned or in serious disrepair.
The competition asked for designers‘ “wildest ideas” about how to use the malls. It drew more than 100 entries from 11 countries and has been getting attention from developers as far away as Moscow.
The winning Davidson-Rafailidis Buffalo-based submission, “Free-Zoning,” focuses on Buffalo’s abandoned and derelict Central Park Plaza. It calls for the city to lift all zoning restrictions and give the property over to city dwellers to create their own houses and/or workplaces using materials salvaged and sorted from the site after a careful and deliberate demolition of the existing mall.
They propose that people settle their plots with materials quarried from the existing site and be free to define how they wanted to live. The effort, they say, “would, without a doubt, result in profusion of building types.”
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,” may be viewed online .
Strip malls originated in the 1920s, but proliferated in the 1950s. They are mercantile establishments of varying sizes comprised of a row of stores, business and restaurants along a road or busy street, usually opening on a parking lot. Many face, or are close to, major traffic arterials and tend to be self-contained, with few pedestrian connections to surrounding neighborhoods.
Although strip malls continue to be built in new configurations in rapidly growing cities like Charlotte, N.C., more than 11 percent of older malls across North America are abandoned, waste sites that essentially have been left to go back to nature.