Renovating van der Rohe's library

Wednesday 19 Feb 2014

Martinez + Johnson and Mecanoo selected for MLK Jr. Memorial Library Renovation

The team of Mecanoo Architecten with Martinez + Johnson has been announced as the winner of an international competition to design the renovation and potential expansion of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Washington DC, designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

The original 37,000 sq m building opened in 1972 and has been operational ever since, providing a welcome public service in Washington. Over the past 40 years however the needs of the library user have changed dramatically and as such, many aspects of the existing library have been rendered out of date.

Mecanoo Architecten and Martinez + Johnson’s winning concept retains the aesthetic power of van der Rohe’s original form, focusing on transparency and light. The team plans to transform the main entranceway and two adjacent cores into focal points, encouraging more sunlight to enter the library.

The design also improves sightlines within the building which enhances the perception of activity, making the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library ‘for people instead of just books’. In eliminating masonry perimeter partition walls and creating new airways to the building’s lower levels, the team introduces natural ventilation and further daylighting.

External terraces will provide additional areas for social gatherings and informal performances, protected from the elements by a continuous overhanging canopy. There are also plans for a bookstore, a café, a restaurant with coffee bar and a landscaped garden roof.

Once the contract has been approved the design team will work with library staff and consultants to decide whether the original building should be expanded upwards or whether the scheme should focus on a renovation of the existing form. As such, the final budget for the building is yet to be decided but estimates range from $225m to $250m.

“Today, the District takes another step towards giving our residents the great central library they deserve in a way that helps improve both the public’s library experience and our library system’s bottom line,” said Mayor Vincent C. Gray during the announcement of the winning team. “I would like to thank the Library for selecting the best architecture team for the job. I also want to thank all of the people who provided input into the selection process.”

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