When Disaster Strikes: Repurposing, Reusing and Rebuilding with Resilient Design and Sustainable Architecture

It’s hard to believe this year 10 years have passed since disaster struck Joplin, Missouri.

After the devastating tornado infamously destroyed part of the town in 2011, our retail architects were honored to aid Walmart in rebuilding their Joplin Supercenter. A new 189,000 square foot supercenter was constructed on the original site and grand opened less than six months after the tragedy.

As a national retail architecture firm with a focus on energy-efficient design, SGA’s knowledge and experience with the Walmart Supercenter architectural prototype allowed us to complete the project in record time. Here is a closer look at how our team helped replace part of what was lost in the disaster.

Repurpose, Reuse, Rebuild

How do you begin to rebuild when tragedy strikes? What can be salvaged? There are different answers to such questions depending on who you speak with. If you’re talking about businesses and business owners in post-tornado Joplin, you’re talking about recovering livelihoods through resilience.

After the storm, we worked to identify ways to rebuild the Walmart Supercenter through the reuse of existing materials. Over 17 tons of crushed concrete and CMU block from the original building were used for the sub-base, as well as an aggregate base for the pavement.

That was just the start. As published by Walmart at the time, the then-current prototypical building design included energy conservation efforts, improved building systems efficiency, and other sustainable design features. Here are some noteworthy examples included in the Joplin Walmart Supercenter:

  • Energy Conservation in Retail Architecture
    • Efficient lighting, electronic continuous dimming ballasts, computer-controlled daylight sensors, and skylights mounted on the roof leverage natural light; daylight harvesting minimizes energy use for electrical lighting during the day.
    • Besides taking advantage of natural daylight, occupancy sensors were installed in non-sales zones, such as restrooms, break rooms, and offices. These sensors automatically shut off the lights when the space is empty.
    • Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are used throughout the building, specifically to illuminate exterior building signage, the parking lot, and to light refrigerated food storage areas. LED technology is a solid‐state lighting technology that saves energy, provides superior optics, improved illumination, and better lighting distribution. What’s more, LED lights contain no mercury or lead and were estimated to last at least six years longer than conventional lighting, which is an important factor in reducing maintenance costs.
    • The power of LED lighting didn’t stop there. In refrigerated food cases, LEDs produce less heat than the typically used fluorescent bulbs — heat which must be made up for by the refrigeration equipment.
    • Topping off many of the energy-efficient design features is the roof. A white membrane roof was installed to increase reflectivity, reduce building energy consumption, and minimize the heat island effect.


  • Building Systems Efficiency
    • Walmart employs a centralized Building Automation System (BAS) to control the heating, air conditioning, refrigeration, and lighting systems for their stores all across the country, including the Joplin location. The BAS enables Walmart to constantly monitor and control energy usage, analyze refrigeration temperatures, observe HVAC and lighting performance, adjust system levels, and detect system problems early from a central location 24 hours per day, seven days a week. These energy management features place the retailer ahead of the curve when it comes to energy management.
    • Another important feature is a dehumidification system that actively lowers humidity. This system allows the refrigeration system to operate more efficiently and reduces water buildup on refrigerated glass doors
    • When it comes to refrigeration, Walmart champions a non-ozone-depleting refrigerant. Additionally, the refrigeration equipment is roof-mounted near the refrigerated cases they chill, reducing the amount of copper refrigerant piping, insulation required, and total refrigerant charge, thereby lowering the facility’s CO2 footprint.
    • The Joplin supercenter also reclaims waste heat from on‐site refrigeration equipment to provide supplemental heating of the domestic hot water needs.


  • Water Conservation
    • Walmart utilizes many water conservation features, including high-efficiency urinals. These urinals use one pint of water with each flush. Compare that to the conventional one gallon per flush urinals, the one pint feature reduces water use by 87% and requires less maintenance than a waterless urinal.
    • By the same token, water conservation extends to the restroom sinks. With sensor-activated ½ gallon per minute faucets, water consumption is reduced by 75% when compared to mandated 1992 EPA standards. When in use, water travels through turbines built into the faucets that creates the electricity required for the motion sensors to function.
    • Besides urinals and sinks, restroom toilets use 20% less water compared to mandated EPA standards of 1.6 gallon per flush fixtures. With built-in water turbines, the toilets generate the power needed to activate the flush feature. In addition, these turbines save energy and material by eliminating electrical conduits required to power automatic flush valve sensors.


  • Materials and Finishes
    • When it comes to concrete, Walmart calls for a strategy that offsets the greenhouse gases emitted in the cement manufacturing process. This involves up to 20% substitution of cement with fly ash, which is produced by coal-fired electricity, or up to 25% substitution with slag, a waste product of steel manufacturing, in its concrete mixes.
    • The use of exposed concrete floors in newly built areas also reduces the need for surface applied flooring materials.
    • In addition, Non-Reinforced Thermoplastic Panel (NRP) replace the Fiber Reinforced Plastic (FRP) sheets typically used on the walls of its kitchen areas. NRP is recyclable and contains a minimum of 80% recycled content, significantly reducing the need for virgin materials.
    • With Walmart’s waste reduction initiative, paint products are typically acquired in 55 gallon drums and 275 gallon totes, which, in turn, reduce the number of one and five gallon buckets required. These plastic buckets are filled from the drums and totes and subsequently returned to the paint supplier for cleaning and reuse.


Construction and Demolition (C&D) Recycling and Reuse

Another important aspect of the Joplin reconstruction involved the Construction and Demolition (C&D) program. The aim of C&D is to retain and recycle metal, wood, floor and ceiling tiles, concrete, asphalt, as well as other materials.

Because of the extent of the storm’s destruction to the building and the merchandise it contained, the recycling and reuse effort went above and beyond the standard prototypical process. Ultimately, 17,181 tons of existing building and site concrete and CMU were crushed into aggregate. Crushed material was reused on site as aggregate base under the slab, footings, pavement, and in the utility trenches. In addition to the building wreckage, the merchandise strewn across the site was also diverted in a comingled state and sorted for recycling.


Site Work

Apart from much of the work we completed in accordance with the architectural prototype, the rebuild required additional sitework. This included demolishing the previous irrigation system in place, and reinstalling drip irrigation and smart controllers. It also included reutilizing 60% of the existing storm lines, 80% of the sanitary sewer lines, and 60% of the existing water lines.

In the end, our retail architects endeavored to ensure that all existing building materials were recycled or reused to the greatest extent possible.


Progress Park

Another significant contribution to this project made by our team of retail architects is the creation of “Progress Park”, a memorial to those lives lost or forever changed by the devastation wrought by this tornadic event.

Progress Park is situated in an elevated area on the north end of the Walmart site and provides a unique place for visitors to view the path of the tornado’s destruction, reflect on the past, and observe the progress of rebuilding the City of Joplin. Working with the local community and institutions, our team identified materials that could be reused and memorialized in its creation, including:

  • Bricks from Irving Elementary School used as brick pavers, and a crushed pathway;
  • Carthage Quarry provided landscaping stones and steps;
  • Polypave made from East Middle School brick;
  • Limestone parapet cap stones from Old South Middle School used as seating and stairs;
  • Bike racks from Emerson Elementary School reused.


Progress Park illustrates the repurposing, reusing, and resiliency that Walmart committed to the community with the Joplin Walmart Supercenter rebuild.

It was important to Walmart to complete the rebuild as quickly as possible to help the citizens get back on their feet and to serve as a catalyst for the recovery of this community.

This project serves as a great example of resilient design, and as a testament to the resilience of the people of Joplin. We were honored to be chosen by Walmart for this special assignment that allowed us the opportunity to contribute to the community’s restoration and to partner with Walmart on resilient, sustainable & innovative design solutions.



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