Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library
The Washington, DC Public Library (DCPL) embarked on an ambitious initiative to renovate and imbue its aging infrastructures with a renewed sense of purpose in the digital information age. Chief among this program is the reimagining of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, a landmark structure originally designed by pioneering modernist architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. In partnership with Dutch architecture firm Mecanoo Architecten, OTJ led this internationally significant test case on the sensitive transformation of a 1970s cultural complex into a socially sustainable engine for the exchange of knowledge. In addition, the project presented a unique opportunity to examine the structure holistically, enhance library services, and organize the program as a cohesive sequence.
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From the project’s onset, our team engaged a broad range of stakeholders in a passionate public dialogue that defined the design’s direction. Our designers led a rigorous entitlements process involving city, state, and federal agencies, punctuated by regular public hearings. Challenges included 45 years of deferred maintenance, outdated systems, a failing exterior envelope, as well as original design issues that failed to express the transparency of the building’s concept.
The renovated library now functions as an agile vehicle for the many platforms through which end-users access information. Four existing lower floors are 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 sensitive issues of environmental stewardship and is intended to meet LEED Silver standards through the addition of critical sustainable design features.
Arts, Cultural & Education
Wellness + Sustainability
Our reimagining of Mies van der Rohe’s original structure is an internationally significant test case on the sensitive transformation of a 1970s cultural complex into a socially sustainable engine for the 21st-century exchange of knowledge.