Discarded by Walmart, a Box Store Becomes a Thriving Library Discarded by Walmart, a Box Store Becomes a Thriving Library
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Discarded by Walmart, a Box Store Becomes a Thriving Library

by Zak Stone

July 10, 2012
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While corporations have enjoyed record profits during the economic downturn, municipalities have struggled to keep basic services like school systems running. With big cities from Detroit to Denver making significant cuts in service, libraries have been particularly beleaguered. But those trends are what make the recent opening of the New Main Library in McAllen, Texas so remarkable, and not just because it's well designed. Since December, residents of this South Texas border town eager to use free internet, check out a novel, or even relax over a cup of coffee can do so in an unusual location: a former Walmart, renovated to become the country's largest single-story library.

According to local news reports, the city purchased the abandoned store from the corporation for $5 million and spent nearly $26 million dollars total on the project, with renovations led by the Minneapolis-based firm MS&R Architecture. While a 2 1/2 football-field sized property has great potential (think of all the books!), the massiveness posed the "primary challenge" to the design team which relied heavily on color to help users understand the floor-plan and navigate the building. Features include conference rooms, a coffee shop, a copy center, an acoustically-shielded space for chatty teenagers, and a 64-terminal computer lab: not bad for a small city with a population less than 150,000 people.

The library replaced McAllen's 61-year-old institution, which city officials say they outgrew. And while there's always nostalgia for losing an old relic, the public appears to be loving their new home for learning. Reports from local news showed that more than 10 times as many people registered for new accounts in December 2011 when the library opened than the same month in 2010. On opening day, 2,000 people queued to be the first inside.

Examining the before and after pictures is, perhaps, most remarkable. The space transforms from a drop-ceiling, painfully lit, box store warehouse to a warm, inviting and dynamic space for learning, thinking, and socializing. It's a refreshing example of how cities can do something about vacant megastores, byproducts of vaciliation in corpoarte decision-making about which stores to keep open. The new design isn't going unnoticed: the library just took home the 2012 top award for library interior design by the American Library Association and the International Interior Design Association.

via PSFK. Images via MS&R architecture

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Discarded by Walmart, a Box Store Becomes a Thriving Library