Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2014

Degree Name

MA (Master of Arts)

Degree In

Art History

First Advisor

Mooney, Barbara

First Committee Member

Adcock, Craig

Second Committee Member

Anthony, Jerry


Future architectural relics are everywhere, manifest in the ultimately unsustainable patterns many American communities have replicated - endless weed-infested parking lots, decrepit malls, the abandoned Walmart glowering across the street at the even bigger Super Walmart. Gone are many of the small, independently owned businesses that lined main streets in small and medium-sized communities across the country, rendered relics by shopping malls lauding big-name brands or cheap products. Malls, too, may be on their way to becoming relics, due in part to the Internet and The Great Recession. However, architectural relics in the form of big box stores have haunted the American landscape since 1964. These box-like, impossibly large structures continue to be built, only to stand empty several years later when an even larger store model is constructed. The country is facing a new obsolescence of extravagance. No longer can our floundering economy support an infinite boom of boxes. Every new big box is a future relic.

While many architectural and cultural historians such as Richard Longstreth, David Smiley, and Neil Harris have dissected the relic of the American shopping mall, few have grappled with the ubiquity of the big box store and how this structural form has departed from a longstanding tradition of retail architectural design. In this thesis, I analyze the factors have contributed to the rise and fall of these creaking behemoths of retail architecture. Ultimately, I contend that big box stores mark a stark departure in architectural theory and practice, and that this departure has manifested in a multitude of cultural, economic, and environmental consequences.


architecture, big box, land use, retail, suburbia


xii, 111 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 105-111).


Copyright 2014 Veronica Rose Smith