A mail-order distribution center and retail store is reborn as a mixed-use community.
A former Sears distribution center that sat derelict for three decades has been resurrected as a “vertical village” by DIALOG, an architecture and design firm with offices in San Francisco and Canada (dialogdesign.ca), and Looney, Ricks, Kiss, an architecture, planning, and interior design firm located in Memphis, TN (LRK, lrk.com).
Located in the heart of Memphis, in the community of Crosstown, the facility was built in 1927 and was originally a Sears mail-order processing warehouse and retail store. At its height, the art-deco building housed 1,500 employees.
Known as the Sears Crosstown Building, it was one of the first Sears stores designed to attract customers by being situated in a relatively open area of the city and providing a large amount of free parking. Sears & Roebuck’s eighth regional distribution center included a soda fountain, luncheonette, employee cafeteria, and in-house hospital. The store that occupied the lower floors closed in 1983, and the catalog distribution center closed in 1993. As time passed, the 1.5-million-sq.-ft. building fell into disrepair. The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2013.
For a building of this size, its resurrection seemed impossible. In spite of how far-fetched the idea, Crosstown Concourse is the result of the collective spirit of Memphians who forged on to revive the historic Sears Building. The specifics of the design concepts were determined through collaborative conversations between the engaged community, city officials, and designers. It was through these collaborations that the “vertical urban village” concept was born. This concept goes beyond mixed use, because it interweaves programming, creates shared space, and encourages an animated sense of community, according to DIALOG. The result? “A design that enhances the social and economic environment of a place. Crosstown Concourse is a ‘place to be’ in Memphis,” the firm said.
“Its rebirth is a celebration of community, history, inclusivity, and possibility. Crosstown is a product of a new kind of American Dream: not for ‘me’ but for ‘we’. Implicit to its success is the camaraderie and ambitions of its current community who view Crosstown as an opportunity to elevate the quality of life in the neighborhood, and beyond,” a statement from the design firm explained.
Designed as a vertical village, 3,000 people—teachers, students, doctors, patients, artists, civic leaders, and entrepreneurs—will pass through Crosstown daily, colliding and collaborating in a monumental and mindful space.
Anchored in arts, education, healthcare, and commerce, the project extends out from its art deco shell to represent a purposeful collective of mixed uses. It integrates a diverse range of programs, including a cancer treatment center, community gardens, a 500-seat performance theatre, local high school, and office space. There are also 270 private residences, which are all connected to the surrounding community through a series of open-air plazas and gardens.
Inside, the connecting corridors and atria have been designed as dynamic architectural environments, inspiring movement and exploration through the space. Brick walls, exposed structure, concrete floors, and natural light are intrinsic. These characteristics, paired with found building relics, natural finishes, creative use of building materials, and thoughtful space planning, further enhance the entire environment and ensure a uniquely textured lifestyle. This means a convergence of traditionally separated urban elements enhances the day-to-day experience; everything needed is in one place. The convergence of industries exposes atypical relationships to one another and increases accessibility to art and community.
The premise for the design of Crosstown Concourse was derived from the urban magnet theory, which was formed through a study of DIALOG’s Granville Island’s Urban Plan in Vancouver. This theory is dedicated to designing for people and place, and encourages architects to detach themselves from focusing solely on the aesthetic form.
In addition, Crosstown Concourse is said to be the world’s largest building to be awarded the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum certification for historic adaptive reuse, according to LRK.
Specific sustainability features include a district 3.5-MW, 9.6-million Btu/hour CHP (combined heat and power) plant which provides thermal and electrical needs for the entire project, plus neighboring healthcare, educational, and residential facilities. Further efficiencies will curtail water use by 40% to minimize the impact on the Memphis aquifer, the main source of water for the city.
As a project to serve the community, the design of Crosstown Concourse put people first and focused on planning the space to offer moments for gathering, convergence, and community enhancement, according to the architects. Traditional planning is all about separation. Employment, industrial, and housing all exist separately of one another within the urban context. Urban magnets do the opposite. Crosstown converges all these urban pieces so they work together to not only serve the community, but also to create one. Crosstown’s design creates diversity, inclusivity, traffic, and a truly unique place to inhabit and use.
- The Sears Crosstown Building is currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of the largest historic adaptive-reuse projects in Tennessee’s history.
- The building was originally 1.5 million sq. ft. The size was reduced to 1.1 million sq. ft.
- Funding: $200 million from 30 different sources, including philanthropic, private, and public funding.
- An estimated 3,000 people will pass through the building on a daily basis.
- Private residences: 270 loft-style apartments on floors 7 through 10, including studios and one-, two-, three-bedroom units.
- The redesign included an 1,150-car parking garage.
- Window glass comprises more than 65% of the building’s exterior.
- More than 10-million lb. of metal was removed from the building and recycled.
- More than 1,500 new doors were installed in the building.
- The Concourse contains 7 mi. of HVAC piping, which hold about 35,000 gal. of water.