Quiz time: What is "the most visited interior space on earth"?

February 06, 2013 |
Rob Cassidy

OK, a little cheating on the question, as you'll see, but according to Susan Orlean, writing in the Feb 11/18, 2013 issue of The New Yorker, the answer is "Walmart stores." Here's what she wrote in a fascinating article, "Walart," about the artist Brendan O'Connell, who paints images from his visits to Walmarts all over the country (his "The Art of Retail" is the only purchased painting in the mega-company's Bentonville, Ark., HQ building):

"The stores became more and more fascinating to him [O'Connell], not just visually but sociologically. For one thing, Walmarts, taken as a whole, are among the most visited interior spaces on earth. For another, O'Connell made a connection that probably few other people have made: the aisles reminded him of the boulevards of Paris; both were bustling worlds of commerce that offered chances for unplanned interactions. [Cassidy note: Shades of Jane Jacobs here.] He saw the soaring infinity of a Walmart superstore as the moden equivalent of a 'Saenredam-like religious space,' referring to the Dutch Golden Age painter whose subject was church interiors. 'They had eight feet of Cheetos!' he said. Where better to study, as the Jesuit scholar Michel de Certeau had done, the 'practice of everyday life'?"

For design/construction professionals who do retail, hospitality, office interiors, schools, student unions, college res halls, or any form of interior design/architecture, Orlean's article - written, as always, with amazing grace and offbeat insight - is a must-read.

Rob Cassidy | Building Team Blog

Rob Cassidy (“ClimateGrouch”) is editorial director of Building Design+Construction. A city planner, he is the author of several books, including “Livable Cities,” and was a co-founder of the Friends of the Chicago River.

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