The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, Washington, D.C.’s central library, will close March 4 until 2020 to undergo a $208 million complete modernization.
The project plans to add an estimated 100,000 square feet of additional space. The D.C. Public Library organization plans to maintain various services provided by the MLK Library over the course of the renovation at the 25 other branches located throughout the city.
While the exterior and first floor of the library, which is located in central Chinatown at 9th and G streets NW, will remain untouched, the new design includes a transparent entryway, a large auditorium and conference center, creative spaces for music production and art creation, a ground-level café, a double-height reading room, a rooftop event space and newly designed spaces for special collections and research.
According to D.C. Public Libraries Media Relations Manager George Williams, the new design will allow for greater community building and more interaction among library patrons.
“There aren’t a lot of buildings in the District that bring residents together. The modernized Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library is going to do that,” Williams said. “It will be a state-of-the-art, centrally located civic hub for all D.C. residents to create, learn, relax and, of course, read.”
The new design was spearheaded by award-winning Martinez+Johnson Architecture, a D.C.-based firm, and Mecannoo, an award-winning Dutch firm. The selection process began in August 2013 with 26 firms applying for the project.
The firms have been approved by the National Capital Planning Commission, the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board and the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts.
According to Martinez+Johnson Architecture Co-Founder and Principal Thomas Johnson, the conception for the planned design came from a desire to modernize the building, which originally opened in 1972.
“The design has always sought to make the library not only more legible and accessible, but to make it an exciting destination place for a wide band of citizens,” Johnson wrote. “Libraries are about access to information be it through books, periodicals or electronic media, and MLK will always be about that. In our century, we have only begun to use libraries as incubators, workshops and meeting places.”
The library has sought community input in the process since the fall of 2013 by convening an advisory panel of community stakeholders, hosting eight citywide community meetings to share the latest designs, conducting focus groups and surveys with local residents and encouraging public comments through their “MLK Jr. Library Idea Community” portal.
Williams said the planning process included more than 70 planning meetings, 13 focus groups, hundreds of surveys and the input of over 4,000 people, both online and in person.
“Because of feedback from the public, we have a library that will serve District residents now and well into the future,” Williams said.
Johnson said their design was based on four principles — creating space for new technology, upgrading building systems, conserving the historical significance of the building and enriching the influence and memory of Martin Luther King Jr.
The firms designed their four-principle approach in coordination with public comment from the Ward 2 community, library staff and other libraries around the world. Johnson cited the vision of the original architect, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, as integral to their plans, though they plan on focusing on modernization.
Johnson attributed the idea for a great reading room spanning the third and fourth floors to ideas from the public.
“Although we didn’t always agree, we did more often than not, and had wonderful discussions about the widest range of issues, and many suggestions were carefully considered and incorporated,” Johnson wrote.
The renovations also plans to showcase the life of Martin Luther King Jr. by respecting the historic designation of the original building design and creating an open and welcoming space.
While the library is closed, it is taking several measures to ensure that patrons have continued access to library resources, including Washingtoniana Collection, which contains historical documents and books documenting the development of the District.
According to Williams, a planned retail location called Library Express will open 1990 K St. NW to provide services such as the Adult Literacy Resource Center and the Center for Accessibility.
All other locations plan to extend their hours, increase the number of computers in their labs and house most of the library’s collections, DVDs and CDs.
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