McAllen, Texas Turned an Abandoned Big-Box Superstore into a Library

  • Big-box stores promise convenience and jobs for suburbs and small towns, but have a poor reputation with urban planners, designers, and citizens.
  • Many see big boxes as icons of unsustainable sprawl, reinforcing car culture with highway-oriented access and expansive parking lots.
  • These boxy buildings not only take up vast amounts of land but often also require infrastructure around them to be overhauled.
  • Later, when their super-sized occupants leave: a giant empty structure is left in their wake, which can be difficult to reuse unless a similar retailer takes its place.
  • There’s nothing worse than having an empty, hulking building that physically divides communities.
  • Some communities and architects, however, have started to turn these voids into opportunities, taking advantage of qualities unique to such megastructures.

    Entry to McAllen Main Libary. Photo by Alucobond.
    Entry to the McAllen Main Libary. Photo by Alucobond.
  • In McAllen, Texas, an abandoned Walmart has become the biggest single-story library in America.
  • The 123,000-square-foot building in question was redesigned and retrofitted by architects from Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle.
  • Their approach to the project turned some of the biggest challenges of big-box reuse into opportunities. The sheer volume of the structure provided an open framework, ready to be re-purposed.
  • The open floor area was strategically split into various sections, including public meeting spaces and computer labs, as well as an auditorium, bookstore and cafe.
  • Walmarts across America occupy over 700,000,000 square feet of space, and this library illustrates how some of that area might be put to good use.

“The McAllen Main Library represents an important shift in American cultural attitudes toward tolerating big box, suburban structures.”

-AIA National Awards Jury

Feature photo by Brave New Films.

Author: Nicholas Efthimiadis

Seattle grown. Avid skier and occasional ski racer. Passionate about all things urban (particularly transportation & housing). University of Washington 2016 graduate: BA in Economics and a minor in Urban Design and Planning. Extensive experience in fictitious cartography and sand-city molding.