Housing Complex

Wanted: An Architect in Search of Controversy

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Are you an architect with a love of "very complex" design review processes, embarking on projects about which no decisions have been made, and vocal opposition from former presidential candidates? Then D.C. Public Library has just the project for you!

This morning, DCPL released a solicitation for architects to redesign the city's central library, Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library. The 1972 modernist building at 9th and G streets NW is obsolete, unpleasant, and, to all but the hardest-core fans of architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, unattractive. DCPL is asking interested architects to submit their qualifications by Sept. 23; within 60 days after that, DCPL will invite 10 to 15 of the interested teams to submit a more detailed proposal.

But the process ought to be fairly daunting for architects who enjoy simply designing and building things.

First of all, the building is both in terrible shape and, as of 2007, a historic landmark. That means that its basic structures must be preserved, and any major changes must undergo a notoriously difficult design review process.

"Please note the design review process in DC is very complex," the solicitation states, "particularly when a rooftop addition and major façade renovations are required, and requires mastery of the DC historic preservation process, including the criteria for seeking approval of the Mayor’s Agent for Historic Preservation (if applicable), and experience in presenting to both the Historic Preservation Review Board, the US Commission of Fine Arts and National Capital Planning Commission."

Second, you're essentially working in the dark. While every step of the process will be contentious, there's very little in the way of guidelines for the design.

"No decisions have been made on the type or extent of renovations or additions to the MLK Library," the request for qualifications explains. "Transforming the existing MLK Jr. Memorial Library will encompass innovative design, demolition (partial), new construction, preservation/restoration and/or mixed-use development."

And finally, you've already got opponents—including a five-time presidential candidate. The Ralph Nader-backed District Dynamos group has already announced its opposition to any redevelopment of MLK with a private partner—a likely course, given the city's reluctance to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into the renovation without recouping some money from private use.

DCPL is expecting a number of responses well in the double digits, so it can narrow the competing teams down to a short list of 10 to 15. Let's see just how many architects are prepared to take on this task.

Photo from DCPL's request for qualifications

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