What does urbanization and agricultural coexistence look like?

Research Project Name

Urban Farmification: Big Box Underground

What We Did

We explored the opportunities and realities of submerging big box retail centers to support rooftop farming. Big box retail centers are demonstrably ripe for this process: they have large roofs, generally do not have windows, and are ubiquitous across the United States. The first big boxes, Walmart, KMart, and Target, opened in 1962 on a promise of mass production and efficiency. For this property type, we need to rethink a sustainable and inclusive integration into the surrounding community.

After choosing our site, a big box near Glendale, California, we created a practical, but inviting design for submergence. To promote openness, we leveraged daylighting when allocating vehicular entryways, truck-loading areas, and store entrances. Above ground, our design aims to be community-centric — an open invitation to social space through rooftop farming.

Our design features a decisive shift away from inexpensive materials that characterize big box stores. Robust structural materials for the underground space were needed, such as a protection slab and a waterproofing membrane, as well as a reinforced skeleton that can bear additional weight. We conducted a preliminary building performance analysis through Syska Hennessy Group, Inc., which included a climate, energy efficiency, and daylighting analysis. The large roof area of this project offered a perfect fit for powering the building with solar energy — and could potentially achieve net zero energy, our efficiency goal.

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Adham Refaat, Emmanuel Ramirez Muro, Leonora Bustamante, Maja Jasniewicz, Robert Hughes, Ian Kim. Research Partners: Saiful Bouquet, Syska Hennessy Group, OJB Landscape Architecture

Year Completed