Local governments across the United States face a similar problem: what to do with abandoned and vacant commercial properties? In many cases, unused shopping malls and big-box stores at the fringes of town are left to crumble, but the town of McAllen, TX came up with a better idea. Left with a vacant Wal-Mart store, the city purchased the massive building from the retail giant and transformed it into a functional and modern new main library.
After its extreme makeover, the former big-box store is hardly recognizable. The cavernous, warehouse-like building was completely gutted and reconfigured to make way for bookshelves, reading nooks, a computer lab, conference rooms, a copy center and even an auditorium. And just to give you an idea of how big it is, 124,500-square-foot structure is roughly equivalent to 2 1/2 football fields, making it the biggest single-story library in the country.
Minneapolis-based Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle hired to complete the conversion was recently named winner of the International Interior Design Association’s 2012 Library Interior Design Competition. The firm installed a strip of laser-cut wood into the ceiling plane to visually divide the library, placing the computer lab on the left and meeting rooms on the right. The designers also used several hanging graphic elements to help break up the space visually.
As Lloyd Alter notes over at TreeHugger, the former Wal-Mart is, unsurprisingly, not very walkable. But that doesn’t seem to be discouraging McAllen residents from using the new library. About 2,000 people reportedly queued up on opening day in December, and new account registrations are up. “The old library on Main Street was not beautiful,” McAllen native Adriana Ramirez told the LA Times. “It was packed with books and seemed too small for the people it serviced. Of course, that was part of the charm — always waiting your turn for the computer and spending a good amount of time finding a corner where you could read uninterrupted. The new library solves all that.”
All images © Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle