The Best Big-Box Architecture
April 4, 2003 6:59 PM   Subscribe

SITE Environmental Design did some pretty cool things for now-defunct big-box retailer Best back in the '70's and early '80's. Unfortunately, all but two of their Best stores have been razed or transformed into plain boxes; and one of those is under threat. They may not have been Chartres Cathedral, but they were certainly more interesting than the standard Wal-Mart or Best Buy architecture.
posted by ukamikanasi (12 comments total)
I love how their site talks about how they're committed to the key points of architectural thinking the 1990s.

Seriously, though, Highway 86 was way cool. I'm bummed that they tore it down.
posted by Vidiot at 7:29 PM on April 4, 2003

the big box buildings might be ugly, but at least i dont think they might collapse on me while shopping inside them.
posted by H. Roark at 7:30 PM on April 4, 2003

I don't know ... I might rather be be collapsed on.
posted by Utilitaritron at 7:32 PM on April 4, 2003

A friend of mine used to work at a Best store in Milwaukee and when it was first built I thought they forgot to take down some of the scaffolding on the side of the building.Turns out it was part of the building.Who knew? Best was an odd store you just looked at display merchandise and if you wanted to buy they sent it down a conveyor from the back, I never got used to that. I'm surprised they lasted as long as they did though now that I think about it the t.v. I'm watching right now came from a Best store in North Dakota circa 1987.
posted by MikeMc at 8:33 PM on April 4, 2003

What's been cranked out lately is certainly boring, but most of what was offered up in the 80's was just plain tacky. Where have all the designers gone?
posted by LouReedsSon at 8:51 PM on April 4, 2003

Designers were destroyed by the word "typical"... "typical window detail" "typical hip roof" "typical door way" "typical 2 ply whatever"... contractors and builders have helped destroy it. Of course non-planners and non-thinkers look at the bottom line of $ and think it has to be "typical" to be quick, easy, and efficient (hence save / make $). I'll argue that it CAN be done easily and efficiently... and beautifully.
posted by tomplus2 at 10:43 PM on April 4, 2003

you just looked at display merchandise and if you wanted to buy they sent it down a conveyor from the back, I never got used to that.

Sounds little different from Service Merchandise. They closed up all their retail outlets too, I believe, but their catalog apparently lives on.
posted by kindall at 11:15 PM on April 4, 2003

The owners of Best products, the late Sydney and Francis Lewis, are the reason these radical departures existed. The Lewis' immersed themselves in art at every turn. Whether it was their immense support of the Virginia Museum's 20th century collection, or a house full of art-furniture. I once had the opportunity to take a tour of their house on Monument Ave. here in Richmond. Amongst a Sam Maloof rocking chair, a commisioned Warhol silkscreen of the couple, and numerous other mid-century heavyweights, was a paper maquette made in preparation for a larger piece by Larry Rivers. It was sitting on top of their Cable TV converter box! Their refreshing belief in exposure to art will be missed.

The former Best Products headquarters still exists BTW and is viewable from I95, north of the city. While not done by SITE, it is a decent structure. I believe that Bank of America uses it now.
posted by machaus at 5:41 AM on April 5, 2003

The mediterranean restaurant in the parking lot of this building is a dandy. Get the chicken shawarma if you know what's good fer ya. That means you, machaus.
posted by Hankins at 7:50 AM on April 5, 2003

Wow, I was just trying to tell someone about this building in Sacramento. I was almost starting to think that I'd dreamt it. It's great to have this background so many years later.
posted by Wood at 10:26 AM on April 5, 2003

I live about a mile from the building that Hankins pointed to, it was quite a cool building. The fact that it was still a wooded area made it so less stressful when you were walking in. On the other side of the coin, just a few miles away is a shopping center that houses Target, Home Depot, Kroger groceries, Kohl's, Best Buy, and is sitting next to a Wal-Mart - I don't think there is a tree for about a mile and a half. It makes for a good time when there is a stiff, unencumbered wind blowing through.

machaus, I believe that Francis Lewis is still among the living, she often visits the Va. Museum where a friend of mine works (even though she owns about half of it).

Also, the aforementioned shawarma is excellent.
posted by hotdoughnutsnow at 10:39 AM on April 5, 2003

From Wood's link: When activated, this mechanized 42 ton "Wandering Wall" unit moves 40 feet in either direction requiring 3 minutes to open or close the entranceway.

I hope there were additional emergency exits!
posted by teg at 10:31 AM on April 6, 2003

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