2023 02 16

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library wins AIA Interior Architecture Award

16.02.2023 - Events, Project updates

The 2023 Interior Architecture program celebrates the most innovative and spectacular interior spaces. Impressive building interiors make their mark on the cities, places, and spaces where we live and work. The group of eight projects was selected by a five-member panel for their demonstrated "design achievement, including sense of place and purpose, community access, ecology and environmental sustainability, and history."

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library is the focal point of the Washington, DC Public Library's ambitious initiative to renew its aging infrastructure and reposition its libraries as vital resources in the digital information age. The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, which opened in 1972, is Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's only building in the district and his only realized library in the world. In addition to greatly enhancing library services and reorganizing its program, Mecanoo also created a test case for sensitively transforming an aging cultural complex into a socially sustainable engine for knowledge exchange.

From the project's onset, the team delved deeply into the stakeholder engagement that steered the design's direction. In addition to a rigorous entitlements process with the city and federal agencies, extensive research was conducted through dialogues with architect Jack Bowman, who worked on the original building, and Charles Cassell, who successfully championed the initiative to name the library after Dr. King.

In overcoming significant challenges, namely about 50 years of deferred maintenance and a failing exterior envelope, the reborn library highlights its role as a place for social gathering and its presence as a community landmark. The new design respects the potent simplicity of Mies' original building and carefully balances the legacies of the legendary architect and civil rights leader. To that end, the team employed a contrasting design idiom, a wood-slatted, curvilinear finish, and form that humanizes the glass and steel signature of Mies' work. It applies to the interior and exterior elements, service bays, and monumental stairs to work harmoniously with and complement the original library's form and discipline.

The library now offers nearly 100,000 square feet of public space, which is carefully programmed to provide residents with new opportunities to learn and connect. As patrons move through the skylit stairs, different experiences on each floor greet them. The team also removed long corridors and the existing oppressive buff yellow brick walls on the upper floors to shape new collaborative experiences, including cowering space, a community services zone, an interactive exhibition space, and a 300-seat auditorium.

The library system anticipates welcoming nearly one million visitors in the post-COVID environment. In offering spaces and services to district residents of all ages and from all walks of life, the library is a crucial civic anchor for downtown businesses as they recover from the pandemic.

If you would like to discuss a press enquiry reach out to us at pr@mecanoo.nl