Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library Honored with National AIA Award for Interiors

The American Institute of Architects has presented the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, located in Washington, DC, with a 2023 national Interior Architecture award. The Interior Architecture program celebrates the nation’s most innovative and spectacular interior spaces: impressive building interiors that make their mark on the cities, places, and spaces where we live and work.

Working in partnership with Dutch architecture firm Mecanoo Architecten, OTJ worked to reimagine the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, a landmark structure originally designed by pioneering modernist architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, as a socially sustainable engine for the 21st-century exchange of knowledge. The design team, supported by a robust college of specialty consultants, engaged stakeholders in a passionate public dialogue to define the library’s direction, examine the structure holistically, and rethink the visitor experience as a cohesive sequence. The renovated library now functions as an agile and equitable community vehicle for the many platforms through which end-users access information.

It was crucial to design a space that was inclusive, optimistic, joyful, and overwhelmingly local.

Richard Reyes-Gavilan, DC Public Library Executive Director, remarks: “This is still a quintessential Mies building. I think he’d love it. And he would not take offense to the adaptive reuse for the next generation of library users.” Adds Gary Martinez, FAIA, OTJ Senior Principal and Project Executive: “It was crucial to design a space that was inclusive, optimistic, joyful, and overwhelmingly local.”

The new design highlights the library’s gathering purpose and its strong presence as a social landmark in the city. Accordingly, the project’s materiality honors the legacies of both architect Mies van der Rohe and Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. through the artful juxtaposition of contrasting design idioms. A central slatted, curvilinear wood form stands as a humanizing contrast to the distinctive rectilinear glass and steel of van der Rohe’s structure. The four existing lower floors are now connected to a fifth-floor addition and a rooftop garden via bold, sculptural staircases and intuitive wayfinding devices, forming a more legible route through the building. While the program respects traditional library services, additional elements include a state-of-the-art maker space, ground-level indoor/outdoor café, as well as a children’s library complete with multi-level slide. Lastly, the renovation addresses environmental stewardship and meets LEED Silver standards through the addition of critical sustainable design features.

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