Uncovering the history of a building or commercial strip is like a mix of archaeology and detective work. The remnants of these old buildings are like fossils, revealing the geographic reach of shuttered chains, and the history of the buildings themselves. Sometimes, that history is preserved rather tackily, and is therefore easy to identify.

Does anyone else remember the cricket wireless store that turned into a chicken spot in Indiana a few years ago? RIP Chicken 2015-2015 pic.twitter.com/Snvk0uIE3a

— vin (@vinmromero) September 27, 2018


© Addison Del Mastro

Suburban architecture, and the commercial highway strips that endlessly feature it, are rarely the subjects of praise. “Ticky-tacky,” “junkitecture,” and, of course, “geography of nowhere,” come to mind. The buildings that make up suburban sprawl are widely viewed as disposable, too cheaply and specifically built to lend themselves to adaptive reuse or to meld into an urban fabric.

This is broadly true, at least compared to the great organism-like cities with cohesive, tightly-knit, fine-grained built environments. But urbanism is not binary—it is reductive to categorize places as cities and “not cities,” urban and non-urban, “real places” and “placeless places.” This kind of thinking only obscures the continuum of urban features that exists everywhere. In this case, in particular, early commercial strips reveal far more dynamic activity and creative reuse than many might expect. (Whether the results are cohesive or aesthetically pleasing is a different question.) Case in point, what might be considered “bad” (and sometimes quite good) storefront conversion: the reuse of a very specific building, like a fast food outlet, for something else.