New York City architect Ju-Hyun Kim has a zany proposal for sprucing up big-box stores: Cover the roofs in a giant artificial mountain that offers ski slopes in the winter and verdant hiking trails in the summer.
Crazy as it sounds, it’s not a bad idea: Big-box stores are hideous. They’re also rough on the environment, with their gargantuan footprints and sprawling parking lots. Drape a hilly park on top, and the thinking goes that you instantly offset some of the aesthetic and environmental damage. "Just imagine how this forest in the mountain can emit fresh air and provide a habitat for animals," Kim says. Not to mention the fact that it’d give everyone an easy way to work off those $1 Ikea cinnamon buns.
Kim designed the proposal for a vast swath of publicly owned land that has sat undeveloped on New York’s Lower East Side for more than 40 years. An existing plan to renew the site with a smattering of mixed-use buildings and a small park falls woefully short, Kim says: It’s "conventional development, which can be planned in anywhere in the world. …There should be a new attraction, some new shock and awe, but one that’s sustainable."
So why not give downtown Manhattan something it desperately needs, he says: big-box stores, like Ikea, Target, Best Buy, and AMC? These would "provide a variety of choices of goods and services at lower prices, [and] create jobs and stimulate the local economy." They’d also be the perfect platform on which to build something else Manhattan lacks: mountainous topography.
I imagine a gigantic park—a natural setting—as a key, dominant element of SPURA development. … The Mountain will provide natural environments with the forest, a habitat for birds and insects such as butterflies. At the same time, Manhattan will enjoy activities that a metropolis didn’t dream of accommodating before: hiking, mountain biking, picnic on the hills, rock climbing, snowboarding.
Conceptually, Manhattan Mountain bears a striking resemblance to Bjarke Ingels’s plan to sex up an unpopular waste-to-trash incinerator in Denmark with an outdoor ski slope. Kim says he was inspired by the geography of his native South Korea: "I love hiking. I used to go to a mountain in Seoul when I lived there. However, in living in Manhattan for more than 10 years, that is not possible. Manhattan seems to have everything—rivers, parks, and great urban life—except a mountain."
It’s true. Manhattan would be AWESOME with a mountain. Surely, though, there are too many technical and political problems for it to work. Never mind the potential hazards of a bunch snowboarders ollying over Delancey Street. This is the city that spawned Jane Jacobs. Imagine the wrath of her acolytes at the suggestion of not one, but four big-box stores, all lined up in a row, like a big corporate firing squad. But maybe in other, less dense parts of the country, Kim’s idea could actually take hold. What do you think? Brilliant or too far-fetched? Sound off below.
[Images courtesy of Ju-Hyun Kim]