Housing Complex

Imagining the MLK Library of the Future

When I reported on Friday that the D.C. Public Library had short-listed 10 architectural firms to redesign the aging Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, a few architecture insiders reacted with surprise to the list. "Whoa REX and OMA," tweeted architecture writer Amanda Kolson Hurley, referring to the firms of global starchitects Joshua Prince-Ramus and Rem Koolhaas. "Shocked to see REX and OMA here," agreed Architect magazine senior editor (and Washington City Paper contributor) Kriston Capps.

Already, the Ralph Nader-founded Library Renaissance Project has begun expressing its opposition to the expected mixed-use redevelopment of the library. The group got a boost last week when its director, Robin Diener, helped sign up dozens of supporters as members of the MLK Library Friends to elect her as that organization's president, defeating the incumbent and founder.

If the short-listed architectural firms' past work is any indication, perhaps Nader, Diener, and co. are right to be wary. I've taken the liberty of transplanting four of the firms' earlier projects onto the G Street NW site, and they look, well, rather eye-popping.

First, here's how the street looks now (or rather, as of June 2011, when Google Maps captured it):

Screen Shot 2013-10-19 at 5.42.13 PM

And here's how it'd look with the stamp of these four firms:

seattle

Seattle Central Library, designed by Rem Koolhaas of OMA and Joshua Prince-Ramus, now of REX (Wikimedia Commons)

OMA

CCTV headquarters in Beijing, designed by OMA (Wikimedia Commons)

studios

North Bethesda Market II, designed by Studios Architecture (studios.com)

leoadaly

Vdara Condo/Hotel at CityCenter in Las Vegas, designed by Leo A. Daly (leoadaly.com)

  • DC20009

    Okay, sure, interesting exercise, and very nice job with the Photoshop-ing, but this project is not about tearing down the existing library and replacing it with a completely new building.

    In fact, your own post from Friday makes the point that "the historic nature of the Ludwig Mies van der Rohe-designed building...precludes major alterations to the building's appearance" so while these illustrations are fun (particularly seeing the Rem Koolhas Seattle Library on G St) that's all they are - fun 'what-ifs', with virtually no connection to the project at hand. As you allude, this is already shaping up to be enough of a battle without feeding the opposition with images of what can never be.

  • Well there you have it

    Lighten up. There has to be a bit of humor now. We'll miss it when this fight gets ugly.

  • Dave

    FWIW, I would LOVE for something akin to the Seattle Central Library to be built there. But I am not holding my breath. Likely, we'll just get a few tweaks to that miserable van der Rohe building and everyone will pat themselves on the back for preserving the mediocrity, er, integrity of DC's streetscape.

  • Bob

    The best solution would be to build a new downtown/Penn Quarter branch library somewhere else downtown. Sell or swap the present MLK building to the Smithsonian or National Gallery, both of which are looking for additional space for modern art. Berlin's Nationalgallerie, also designed by Mies, is a fitting home such such art. The MLK's location makes it a natural "campus" extension for the Smithsonian. That way, the building can be preserved, renovated and re-purposed for a more appropriate use, while a new, 21st century library could be built.

  • It’s not about the building

    Ready, Fire, Aim!

    Once again, dysfunctional DC elected and appointed officials are too busy behind the scenes--steering "study" and "dog-and-pony-show" contracts to their cronies and campaign donors, hiring carpetbagger employees like Ginnie Cooper who left Brooklyn under a cloud (only to come to DC and spend like a drunken sailor) and patting themselves on the back in a predictable circle--to care about the public they're supposed to be serving.

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  • Well there you have it

    ^^^^ See what I mean........

  • anonymous

    @WTYHI

    Don't you and all your Nader-bashing sock puppets here on WCP have more signs to barf up for Jack Evans?

  • maktoo

    @Bob, that's a great idea!

  • Unregenerate Idealist

    It's not surprising that folks are shocked to learn that internationally renown architects might be interested in working on a building in D.C., since we've had little to show on the built-environment front for quite a while. (Not surprising, given our elected officials believe that the arrival of a near half-dozen Walmart will just about provide all the employment and shopping anyone could dream of.) I recently took a walking tour of Shaw and was stunned to see ersatz-Mid-Century (that's Mid-20th-Century) crap going up block after block. Perhaps developers don't hire architects at all anymore, but come up with those puce wall panels all by themselves. I'd love to see some real eye-openers like the Seattle Central Library built in D.C., but it's not necessary to demolish the Mies MLK, Jr. library or the Height Act to bring gutsy architecture to our city. What we need are public and private power mongers with an ounce of worldliness and vision among them.

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