Adaptive Reuse, Aisle 7: How An Empty Big Box Can Give Rise to Community

Architecture Interiors Midwest Newsletter Preservation
THE MCALLEN MAIN LIBRARY, ONCE A WALMART. (IMAGE COURTESY MEYER SCHERER & ROCKCASTLE)

THE MCALLEN MAIN LIBRARY, ONCE A WALMART. (IMAGE COURTESY MEYER SCHERER & ROCKCASTLE)

An average Walmart tops 100,000 square feet. With more than 600 stores nationwide, the company has a mighty footprint. And when a store goes under, it can be somewhat of a crater in the local real estate market.

One Walmart in McAllen, Texas—about 15 miles from the Mexican border—got a major facelift from Minneapolis-based Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle, who also have an office in Marysville, Md. They won an ALA/IIDA Library Interior Design Award for their work converting the defunct big box store into a library.

THE MCALLEN MAIN LIBRARY, ONCE A WALMART. (IMAGE COURTESY MEYER SCHERER & ROCKCASTLE)

THE MCALLEN MAIN LIBRARY, ONCE A WALMART. (IMAGE COURTESY MEYER SCHERER & ROCKCASTLE)

Now instead of groceries and inexpensive consumer goods, a 124,500-square-foot Walmart skeleton houses the McAllen Library. It’s the largest single-story library in the U.S., which could have left readers lost in the cavernous space instead of lost in a book.

To remedy that problem, the firm adopted some of the building’s original programming: They separated meeting rooms, staff areas, and other programs into quadrants, providing wayfinding with colorful signage and two spines that bisect the building. A number of graphic-patterned ceiling elements delineate genre categories, while a patterned wood ceiling runs the length of the building. One month after the new library opened, library registration increased 23 percent.

Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle has also rehabbed five abandoned buildings in Philadelphia’s Navy Yards for Urban Outfitters headquarters.

THE MCALLEN MAIN LIBRARY, ONCE A WALMART. (IMAGE COURTESY MEYER SCHERER & ROCKCASTLE)

THE MCALLEN MAIN LIBRARY, ONCE A WALMART. (IMAGE COURTESY MEYER SCHERER & ROCKCASTLE)

THE MCALLEN MAIN LIBRARY, ONCE A WALMART. (IMAGE COURTESY MEYER SCHERER & ROCKCASTLE)

THE MCALLEN MAIN LIBRARY, ONCE A WALMART. (IMAGE COURTESY MEYER SCHERER & ROCKCASTLE)

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