While large retail spaces are being abandoned, a vacant Walmart got a surprising new life. Instead of housing yet another large chain or falling into decay, it has become a public library serving a lively space for the local residents.
The so-called “big boxes” (very large stores) were a promise of convenience and jobs for the residents of suburbs and small towns, and became an icon of reinforcing car culture and unsustainable sprawl. However, when such infrastructure is emptied, it may be difficult to reuse the space unless a similar retailer comes along. Some communities and architects have started to turn such voids into meaningful spaces, taking advantage of the qualities of such megastructures.
This vacated Walmart in McAllen, Texas, has become the biggest single-story public library in the United States. The open space of a supermarket was split into various sections, public meeting spaces, computer labs, an auditorium, bookstore and café. This award-winning building is then tackling the tricky issue of abandoned megastructures by dramatically transforming from a big box or a warehouse to a place with a “sense of intimacy.”
The post-Walmart library is embracing the idea of libraries evolving into community spaces. Julia Christensen from Oberlin College states that with more than 130 former Walmarts across the USA, let alone similar structures globally, the adaptive reuse of such spaces is only going to become increasingly common in the next few years.