McAllen Main Library

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McAllen Main Library | Notes of Interest

The primary challenge of reusing an abandoned Walmart building was to create a highly functional, flexible library of 124,500 square feet on a single level. This area is equivalent to nearly two and a half football fields, making the new library the largest single-story library in the United States.

The interior of the abandoned building and new mechanical systems were painted white to form a neutral shell for new patron and service areas, which are designated with color. Primary program areas—including community meeting rooms, the children’s library, adult services, and the staff area—are located in quadrants of the building. This clear organization allows easy wayfinding and patron access from a central service spine, delineated by a patterned wood ceiling that runs the length of the building. A secondary spine in orange bisects the first to further distinguish the public community meeting rooms from the private staff area and the children’s from the adult services areas.

McAllen is the crossroad for thousands of insects, birds, and mammals that migrate seasonally between North and South America. To celebrate this unique local phenomenon, the design concept focuses on movement and migration. Forms, materials, patterns, and colors undulate through the space from floor to wall to ceiling to create elements that organize the space, provide landmarks for visitors, and modulate the scale of spaces.

In the library’s first month of operation, new user registrations for library cards increased 23 times from the same period last year, and existing account updates were up nearly 2,000%. Jose Gamez, former director of the McAllen Public Library, said these statistics show “the investment the city made was the right choice because the public has responded so well to the new building. They’re making use of the entire facility. There isn’t a space that’s not being used, and there isn’t a service that hasn’t been taken advantage of.”

Additional Credit

  • Audio/Visual Consultant: BAi, LLC
  • Engineer - Civil: Perez Consulting Engineers
  • Engineer - Mechanical/Electrical: ACR Engineering
  • Engineer - Structural: Bill Reiffert & Associates, Inc.
  • Exterior Architecture: Boultinghouse Simpson Gates Architects
  • General Contractor: Barcom Inc.
  • Landscape Architect: Terra Design Group

    Photo Credit

    © Lara Swimmer

McAllen Main Library

Jury Comments

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

The interior spaces have been dramatically transformed from a warehouse to a place with a sense of intimacy.

The strong building interior organization and functional parti are reinforced by the use of color, creating an overall feeling of delight.

While many of the external site characteristics could not be changed, the design team signaled that 21st-century attitudes toward design are evolving quickly.

More about McAllen Main Library.

2013 Institute Honor Awards for Interior Architecture Jury

  • Andrew Wells, FAIA (Chair)
  • Dake Wells Architecture, Springfield, Missouri
  • Susan H. Jones, FAIA
  • Atelierjones, LLC, Seattle
  • Carlos M. Martinez, AIA
  • Gensler, Chicago
  • Ronald J. McCoy, FAIA
  • Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey
  • Catherine M. Truman, AIA
  • Ann Beha Architects, Boston

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