July 6, 2012

Wal-Mart store finally put to good use


The McAllen Main Library in Texas, transformed from an abandoned Wal-Mart.

When a Wal-Mart location shut its doors in McAllen, Texas, it left behind a 124,500 square-foot building that was given back to the city—and rather than turn over the massive space to another retailer, McAllen made the bold decision to turn it into a public library, designed by the architectural firm Meyer, Scherer, and Rockcastle.

The results are outstanding; when you take all the stuff out of a Wal-Mart store that makes it scary, you’re left with an immense shell of a building to work with.

MS&R started by stripping out a lot of the old ceiling and repainting the perimeter walls and ceiling white, with bold color-coded signage marking various sections of the library, to help visitors find their way around the huge building; the size of two-and-a-half football fields, it is the largest single-story library in the U.S.

The McAllen Main Library also features a laser-cut wood wall that turns into a ceiling panel and runs the length of the building, serving as a clear dividing line between the book sections on one side and the computer lab, meeting room, and staff area on the other. It also has an area called the “service spine,” a narrow section of the library, painted bright orange, that houses all its service amenities and separates the adult and children’s book collections. Teens also get their own section of the library, an acoustically separated lounge designed to look like a spy cave.

The big box library experiment has been a great success thus far. The International Interior Design Association selected the McAllen Main Library as the winner of the 2012 Library Interior Design Award. More people are coming to the library as well, with new user registration up 23% in its first month of operation. You can see more photos here at the library’s website, including before & after shots that show the barren space left behind by Wal-Mart.


Nick Davies is a publicist at Melville House.