Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library

MLK Library

901 G Street NW Washington DC 20001 View Map

Photo for Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library Photo for Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library


Mecanoo with local partner Martinez+Johnson Architecture is among three teams proposing solutions for the renovation of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Washington DC. The 37,000 m2 landmark building that originally opened in 1972 is the only library designed by modern master Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.  In his work, transparency and light stand as metaphors for freedom and knowledge, the very principles of Dr. King’s writings and teachings.

Mecanoo has created an initial investigation of how a concept plan can accommodate change and how it may be realized with or without additional development above the existing structure. This vision for the MLK Library revolves around respect for the original architecture while updating the building with a human touch. The result is a modern library that reflects a focus on people and celebrates the exchange of knowledge, ideas, and culture.

The concept maintains the basic, rational module governing the original layout of the building  as well as the essential horizontality of Miesian design.  Mecanoo transforms the main entrance and the two adjacent cores into focal points by making them transparent, allowing more daylight to enter the building, creating a clear and welcoming entrance area, and making the facility significantly more legible for visitors.  Eliminating masonry perimeter partition walls and creating dramatic areaways to lower levels introduces sight lines to activity within the building, natural ventilation, and even more daylight. On the ground floor, retail spaces flanking the entrance have outside terraces sheltered by the large continuous overhang canopy.  One side is a bookstore and café, the other side a restaurant with a coffee bar.  Upon entering the building, visitors are welcomed into the Market Place, a centralized area designated for cultural performances  and informal events.  The central hall now open to natural light becomes a warm activity center upon entrance to the library.

Mecanoo has grouped and distributed departments and functions throughout the building, establishing well organized floors for different users and purposes.  Consistently, the glassy perimeter is now for people instead of just books.  Even the roof becomes landscaped as a contemporary garden design, engaging the surrounding city through spectacular views.  

The design of a potential addition with living spaces above the library presents a new set of challenges.  Mecanoo’s proposal does not compromise the understanding of the landmark but rather establishes an elegant composition with a different but scale and density relating to both the Mies building below and to the surrounding urban context.  Shaped like a diagonal floating beam, the addition is an understated solution minimally impacting the horizontal composition of Mies’s Library.  One would access the addition through an entry sequence distinct from the public experience of the building, arriving in a light filled atrium that celebrates an exciting concept of urban dwelling.  The diagonal orientation of the bar creates space on the sunny southeast corner for a public roof terrace.

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