Housing Complex

Here’s How the Redesigned Martin Luther King Jr. Library Could Look


The D.C. Public Library released proposals Friday by the three teams officials selected in December to present ideas for redesigning the system's flagship downtown Martin Luther King Jr. Library—but exactly how involved the renovations would be is still unknown.

All three groups—Mecanoo/Martinez + Johnson Architecture; Patkau Architects/Ayers Saint Gross with Krueck + Sexton; and STUDIOS Architecture/The Freelon Group—were asked to design both a standalone library and a more elaborate mixed-use project that would incorporate both the library and some commercial or residential functions. "No decisions have been made on the type or extent of the renovations or additions to the library," a library press release today says.

All the designs will be on display at the MLK Library, at neighborhood libraries, and in a public meeting on Feb. 15. Click below to see what they look like and read the proposals.

Patkau Architects/Ayers Saint Gross with Krueck + Sexton

PatkauASG-MLK-Competition-Images-04 PatkauASG-MLK-Competition-Images-30 PatkauASG-MLK-Competition-Images-17 PatkauASG-MLK-Competition-Images-13 PatkauASG-MLK-Competition-Images-09

The full proposal:

Mecanoo/Martinez + Johnson Architecture

05_West corner_Mecanoo_opt 04_East corner_Mecanoo_opt 03_Great hall_Mecanoo-_opt 02_Main entrance_Mecan_opt 01_Section_Mecanoo-Mar_opt

The full proposal:

STUDIOS Architecture/The Freelon Group


The full proposal:

  • Colin

    These all look pretty weird, I guess because they have to keep the original library intact. Would be so much better if we could just dynamite the damn thing and start over.

  • Rusa

    I have to agree with Colin. Start over from scratch. MLK is the coldest, ugliest library I've ever seen, inside and out. (I've lived in Baltimore, Philly, Cleveland, Portland OR, Denver and MLK is the worst.)

  • AJ

    8-story mecanoo/martinezjohnson by a mile. just the right amount of refinement, intrigue, and pride-of-place. the upper addition respects the existing building without deferring to it. the shorter version with the courtyard is also elegant, but if some people in DC want to keep the city's height limits where they are today, increasing the density of existing buildings within the city's core is a simple way of adding much needed space. increasing density in a public showcase building like this would be a great precedent for the city to set.

    patkau/asgks's proposal to camouflage a fifth story facade addition and quietly add two more levels is heavy-handed in its reverence for mies and the existing library. no, mies was not a god, and no, most people in DC are not huge fans of the mlk library. why make more of it? looks like the talented preservationists at ayers saint gross won the design debates against patkau's architect's, who were left with a courtyard to play in. whatever they decide that courtyard canopy is made of, it won't age well. (mecanoo's marble? it could look better in fifty years than it does brand new.)

    all three teams have local offices, but studios and freelon are probably the most well-known of the four DC offices and as the only team with a local lead architect, will probably be given the local favorite title as these proposals make their rounds. unfortunately, the proposal is unresolved and uninspired, like far too much of their work. the upper addition has an awkward relationship to the existing rooftop and seems to be designed from above rather than from the street or interior. the hyper-trendy parametric facade is the antithesis to mies' timeless simplicity. and somehow they've managed to make the courtyard look like a corporate office cafeteria. so i guess it is the most contextual.

    if studios and freelon win and their proposal is built, dc should require the interns from those offices to climb up there and clean the glass canopy every three months, as will be needed to keep it from filling with snow, slush, dirt, leaves, and whatever else washes over the city every day.

    good luck mecanoo/martinezjohnson

  • tntdc

    Why not just raise it's height as Mies van der Rohe assumed would happen? He designed it with future extra height in mind.

  • Jermaine

    Mecanoo/Martinez + Johnson is the best by far.

  • http://riverdaleapartments.co.in Paul

    Proposal looks great and when completed will definitely provide great services, but is there any commercial aspect to it ?

  • Jes’ sayin

    No matter what they choose, Ralph Nader and his band of dingbats will oppose it, and go to court to delay it. They will take up years, cost taxpayers millions of dollars and get nowhere.

    That's democracy, Nader style, for you.

  • jno

    I agree that MMJ is best. The Studios proposal is awful. I'm sure it will win.

  • Bob See

    A vertical element at the back corner would work best; it would appear as a building behind the library, instead of as a construct propped on top as we see here. But with height limits that won't happen. So if the choice is one of these three then I like the Patkau proposal.

  • Macheko

    I agree, Mecanoo/Martinez + Johnson is the best. Elegant and fitting with the style, but asserts its own style as well. Patkau Architects/Ayers is ok but too blah, it looks like its hoping you won't notice there's an addition. Studios/Freelon is the worst, it looks like some other trendy building jumped on top of the library and won't get off.

  • LongTimeRez

    "'No decisions have been made on the type or extent of the renovations or additions to the library,' a library press release today says."

    ...but we've still gone ahead--albeit with no planning, no program and no community/user input--and will choose a final architect after a meaningless dog&pony show for a fantasy project.

    In other words, DC government continues to insist on doing everything a$$-backwards.

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  • I. Rex

    Agree that the Mecanoo design is the best. Great idea to put a bookstore/café with outdoor seating. They need to do something like that to activate the sidewalk area and make it more inviting to people. The other two designs are terrible.

  • Bob See

    patkau/asgks's proposal to camouflage a fifth story facade addition and quietly add two more levels is heavy-handed in its reverence for mies and the existing library.
    It vastly improves the building proportions. Further, the problems that people have with the library are mainly the first floor and how it interacts with the street (not to mention completely non-architectural issues like homeless and lax maintenance). If you want to talk about "heavy handed reverence" then the other proposals are just that because they completely separate the existing from the new and look a bit tacked on in the process.

  • Alan P

    I'm all for the renderings that increase the natural light inside the library, particularly the last one.

    Besides being aesthetically pleasing, increased natural light means less lighting costs year round and less heating costs in cooler months (offset by increased cooling costs in warmer months).

  • Rob F.

    Is the same Meccanoo whose director was named woman architect of the year last week? http://m.architectsjournal.co.uk/8658533.article

  • Nathaniel Martin

    I'd like to weigh in to support the Freelon/Studios proposal. Granted, the golden filigree facade on the addition is garish and retro, but I think the proposed form of the addition provides a fun contrast to the existing building without overwhelming it. I actually like the Mies building, but I think the other proposals are too reverential toward it. I appreciate the boldness of the Freelon/Studios approach. We should remember that these are ideas at this point, and the end product won't look like any of these, but I'd like to see the library think ambitiously.

  • gimbels lover

    Studios' project is the kind of parametric drivel that is... skin deep.

  • David B.

    Mecanoo Patkau Freelon Studios Both Mecanoo and Feelon seem to miss the perspetive of the street viewer. Freelon's design is hideous with the currwnt building. Mecanoo's top portion appears to be at an angle. Not in harmony with the surrounding buildings or with enough girth to the building as a whole. It feels heavy to one side. Its marble slab bleak. The interior light thing works. For me though Patkau's design assimilates best by using the majority of the top and tries seemingly through the top floors to filter natural light. Exterior building material changes on the addition should be considered though.

  • David B.

    Additionally, The cafe in Patkau's design is too short and not in harmony with current building. Maybe add some curved elements.