Housing Complex

Is This the Future MLK Library?

mlk

Probably not. Or at least, we don't know yet.

As my colleague Jonathan L. Fischer reported this morning as I was scrambling back from a red-eye flight, Mayor Vince Gray announced the selection of a team of architects to redesign the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, choosing a partnership of Netherlands-based Mecanoo and D.C.-based Martinez & Johnson over two other short-listed firms. Renderings of the overhauled central library from Mecanoo and Martinez & Johnson show a three-story residential addition above a modified version of the existing Ludwig Mies van der Rohe-designed library building.

But city officials are being careful not to commit to any particular design at this point, given the criticism of a potential public-private mixed-use renovation, particularly from groups founded and funded by former presidential candidate Ralph Nader. "Upon contract approval, Martinez + Johnson and Mecanoo will work with library staff and consultants to determine if the project will be renovated as a stand-alone library or as a mixed-use building with additional floors," Gray's office explained in a press release today. "No decisions have been made on the type or extent of the renovations or additions to the library."

Still, a mixed-use concept may be the most feasible approach. Gray's press release states that the project is expected to cost between $225 million and $250 million, while the city has committed just $103 million to the project in its capital budget. The addition of a private component would offset the cost of the renovation and allow the city to complete the project without footing the entire bill.

Regardless of how the city ultimately decides to move forward with the renovation, the proposal from Mecanoo and Martinez & Johnson sheds some light on the firms' thinking into how to convert the historic but obsolete library into a more attractive and functional facility. Or, as the proposal puts it: "Keep Mies Mies. Or even better: Improve Mies in a contemporary Miesien way."

The architects' ideas for how to give the modernist building a facelift include creating a uniform facade with new glazing; making the core areas more transparent by removing brick walls, and possibly adding escalators; creating a G Place NW entrance; and putting patios all around the building. The proposal also suggests a number of new restaurant and cafe components, including a "bookstore/cafe" similar to Dupont Circle's Kramerbooks alongside a "coffee/ bar/restaurant" like Rotterdam's Theatre Cafe Floor on the ground floor, as well as a "Mies restaurant" and a "Mies cafe and roof garden."

If the ultimate design does include a residential component, the architects propose placing the addition at an angle to the existing building so as to keep the existing horizontal proportions of the Mies building and to make part of the roof publicly accessible.

Now that a team of architects has been chosen, D.C. Public Library officials will prepare a contract for approval by a committee of DCPL's Board of Trustees and the D.C. Council. Community input will be solicited by an advisory panel consisting of city officials, neighborhood leaders, and Nader ally Robin Diener, who earned a greater voice in opposing a public-private renovation of the library by taking over the MLK Library Friends group in October.

Below is the full proposal from Mecanoo and Martinez & Johnson.

Rendering from the Mecanoo and Martinez & Johnson proposal

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