martin luther king jr memorial library
M+J is currently leading an initiative to renovate and transform Washington’s Central Public Library. A facility originally designed by Mies van der Rohe, it is the modern master’s only realized library and only project in DC. The cultural complex is an internationally important test case of how a landmark modernist structure can be sensitively transformed to accommodate the features and spaces of a 21st century central library.
The DC Public Library (DCPL) has largely completed an ambitious initiative to restore, renovate, and in some cases completely rebuild their aging infrastructure. The crowning jewel of this program is the reimagining of the agency’s scholastic center. DCPL considered building a new downtown building on several sites but ultimately chose to renovate the existing building. The library is now a landmarked historic example of the architect’s work and the international style in general – consequently, changes must be carefully considered. Among the building challenges are 40 years of deferred maintenance, outdated building systems, a failing exterior envelope, and some original design issues that fail to live up to the transparent, open beauty of the building’s concept.
M+J teamed with the Dutch architecture firm Mecanoo for this undertaking, building upon the latter’s international experience defining the modern central library. M+J participated in a rigorous public dialogue with a wide variety of interested parties that continues to impact the design. M+J has also directed a rigorous entitlements process involving a continuing conversation with city, state, and federal agencies highlighted by regular meetings and public hearings.
The Library’s functions and educational services will be significantly enhanced. The project gave DCPL the opportunity to look at MLK comprehensively such that spaces and activities can now be appropriately located to form a legible route through the building. Connections between the four existing floors with lower levels, a fifth floor addition, and a roof garden through bold vertical connections, way finding devices, and natural light enhance the learning and discovery processes essential to the complex. The new building respects traditional library services while celebrating current technology and anticipating future innovation. It also recognizes various levels of users and the range of platforms through which they access information.
The new building systems address environmental issues and pursue LEED Gold sustainability standards. Incorporating feedback from interest groups, the new library seeks new levels of “social sustainability,” as well, serving the population of the entire city and surrounding area.