Modernization continues on MLK Jr. Memorial Library opening 2020

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The modernization of the MLK Jr. Memorial Library will redefine how a central library serves DC residents as well as celebrate Dr. King's life and legacy. Image credit: Matthew Rabinowitz.

by Matthew Rabinowitz

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library is slated to reopen in 2020 as part of DC Public Library’s “Know Your Neighborhood” plan to modernize and increase library usage.  Construction began on the $211 million project in early 2017, which is expected to continue the library’s celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and impact on Washington, D.C.

“The modernization of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library gives us the opportunity to ensure that one of the city’s most important civic buildings embodies the values of one of our country’s most important leaders,” executive director of the DC Public Library Richard Reyes-Gavilan said in a press release. “When people walk into this building next year, they will be awed by the amazing new spaces and inspired by how our new services advance the ideals of the ‘beloved community’ that Dr. King imagined.”

Image credit: Matthew Rabinowitz

The library will continue to support the values that King preached with enhanced spaces that hold collections documenting his life and teachings. The renovation will also restore the large, treasured, oil mural painted by Donald Miller, which depicts King’s life and the American Civil Rights Movement.

Consistent with the emphasis of King’s ideas, a new, 4,300 square foot cafe, which includes a workforce development program, will be constructed to train members of the D.C. community.

“We want the employees of the cafe to participate in workforce training, to basically set them up for additional types of employment,” Reyes-Gavilan said. “We don’t want to squander an opportunity for a real-life workforce development program to take place.”

Along with the new development cafe comes an additional 100,000 square feet of public space which will include an auditorium built into the top floor, a host of new spaces for community organizations, an expanded children’s area, an outdoor patio and a Maker Space for 3D printing and engineering pursuits.

Additionally, parts of the library will be more open and well-lit, with large windows letting in natural light. The rest of the library, including the Great Hall, will adopt a sleeker design with fewer brick structures and empty spaces to increase overall usability.

“Up and down the line, we are giving more rooms for public use than we did in the previous building and, in certain areas, we are creating public use where it didn’t even exist,” Reyes-Gavilan said.

Community input was essential during the design process. Opinions gathered from more than 3,000 people during over 73 panels, meetings, focus groups and surveys were all incorporated into the final design.

The project is spearheaded by OTJ Architects and Mecanoo Architecten while being managed by Smoot/Gilbane (a joint venture between Smoot Construction and Gilbane Building Company).

MLK Jr. Memorial Library renovation project. Image credit: Matthew Rabinowitz

Before renovations even began, however, the DC Public Library needed its plans reviewed by the National Capital Planning Commission, the Commission of Fine Arts and the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board to comply with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.

The DC Public Library believes that the new renovations will respect architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s original design, and hopes that they will qualify the library for a LEED Silver Certification, meaning that it will include energy efficient features such as bicycle racks, “smart” plumbing systems and “vegetative green roofs.”

In support of the DC Public Library’s emphasis on community, 36 percent of the 450,000 hours of construction already put into the renovations have been completed by local community members.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library is one of the DC Public Library’s last libraries to be renovated; 19 city libraries have already been renovated or rebuilt under the “Know Your Neighborhood” strategic plan.