Walmart, the leviathan of the U.S. retail economy, has had a tough year. So tough that the company’s new CEO is prescribing a surprising strategy to slow decaying sales: Build smaller stores. And, in at least one case, put housing on top of them.
Fort Totten, a neighborhood in northeastern D.C., is about to be home to a new type of Walmart. At 125,000 square feet, it’s not quite as small as the other miniature stores Walmart has opened up elsewhere, but it’s unique for another reason: 345 residential units will be stacked above the ground-floor podium occupied by the megastore.
Architectural Record has the story of designing this hybrid box store/housing block, which is the work of the same D.C. firm, Hickok Cole, that recently completed the headquarters of NPR. According to Michael Hickok, the process of accepting the project wasn’t easy:
“We went into it with great trepidation,” Hickok admits. The design team worried not just about the retailer’s wanting supersized signage, but also about the more prosaic challenge of putting residential plumbing above a grocery store.
In the end, Walmart was fine with smaller signage and the plumbing issues were resolved without any produce being harmed. The renderings show a typical peri-urban apartment development, complete with a pool, cafes, and wandering dog walkers—the only difference being that, rather than a coterie of cafes and boutiques you might expect, the ground floor is full of Walmart.
Which brings us to the irony of this pivot. Walmart, a company infamous for squeezing out mainstreet-style independent retailers, is now taking urbanism tips from them. And a tougher problem: If a Walmart spurs urban renewal in an otherwise stagnant neighborhood, can we fault it? [Architectural Record]