D.C. Public Library Names Architecture Team for MLK Memorial Library Redesign

06:21 | 04.06.2014
Autors: Kaspars Sarmulis

Mecanoo Architecten and Martinez+Johnson Architecture are the winners of the design competition to renovate the Mies building.


At a press conference Tuesday morning, Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray named the architecture team that will spearhead the long-overdue renovation of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library. The team—Netherlands-based Mecanoo Architecten and D.C.-based Martinez+Johnson Architecture—will restore and redesign features of the only library designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.


"There are some of us who remember when the Carnegie Library was the central library," Mayor Gray said. "This library, a Mies van der Rohe product, has served us for the better part of four decades."


The news ends years of anticipation regarding the fate of the MLK Library, which is the only building designed by Mies in the nation's capital and has suffered decades of neglect. Three teams were shortlisted to renovate the 1972 building: Studios Architecture and the Freelon Group; Patkau Architects, Ayers Saint Gross, and Krueck + Sexton Architects; and the winning team, Mecanoo and Martinez+Johnson. The teams presented their proposals to the public on Saturday at the MLK Library.



"This team has demonstrated an understanding of how a newly renovated central library complements our work on the branch libraries," said Neil Albert, chair of the facilities committee for DCPL's Board of Trustees, at the press conference Tuesday. Albert said that the team was the only one that showed experience with the Mayor's Agent for historic preservation.


"What an extraordinary job she did," Mayor Gray said about Ginnie Cooper, chair of the technical evaluation committee and former chief librarian for DCPL.


One activist on hand, however, says that the public has had scant time to weigh in on the designs. Chris Otten, who heads up the community group network District Dynamos, says that consultants have guided the entire selection process without significant input. "We only learned the consultants' names three days ago," he says.


Users of the Mies library have criticized the lack of flow between the grand lobby and its upper floors. With its renovation, Mecanoo and Martinez+Johnson aim to change that experience. Their concept calls for replacing many interior brick walls with glass. As the firm's founding partner and creative director Francine Houben, Hon. FAIA, said at Saturday's public presentation, "Books don't like light, but people like light." The ground floor in the plan is designated at the "city market floor," and includes two cafes and a bookstore.



"In [Martin Luther King, Jr.'s] honor, we will strive to make a library for the people," said Martinez+Johnson principal Thomas Johnson, AIA, on Tuesday. He quoted parts of Houben's Saturday presentation, which was built around an "Imagine" theme.


According to DCPL, early cost estimates for the project are $225 to $250 million. From here, the contract goes from the DCPL board to the city council. The contract involves two options: a straight library renovation, or a mixed-use renovation with additional floors rising from the roof of the library. A decision is expected later this spring.


The winning team's initial design for this mixed-use concept calls for a diagonal addition on the top of the Mies structure, creating two outdoor rooftop spaces.



Mecanoo has completed several libraries around the world, including the U.K.'s Library of Birmingham and another at the Delft University of Technology. This project is the first for the firm in D.C. Houben was also given Architects' Journal Woman Architect of the Year award earlier this month. Martinez+Johnson has renovated several DCPL libraries, including ones in Takoma Park and Georgetown.

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