The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, D.C. is housed in a 37,000m2 landmark building that originally opened in 1972. It is the only library designed by modern master Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. In his work transparency and light stand as metaphors for freedom and knowledge, the very principles of Dr. King’s life teachings.
The vision for the MLK Library revolves around respect for the original architecture while updating the building to a modern library that reflects a focus on people, celebrating the exchange of knowledge, ideas and culture.
Mecanoo, together with local partner OTJ Architects will transform the main entrance and the two adjacent cores into focal points by making them more transparent, and by designing new spacious public stairwells. This creates a clear and welcoming entrance area, making the facility significantly more legible for visitors. The Great Hall, a centralised area designated for cultural performances and informal events, will be the beating heart of the library.
The central brickwork cores on the upper floors will be removed to make room for column-free Upper Great Halls, whilst increasing transparency and emphasising the horizontal orientation. The void of the Great Reading Room between the third and fourth floor adds a visual vertical connection.
Mecanoo has grouped and distributed departments and functions throughout the building, establishing well-organised floors for different users and purposes. The glazed perimeter is now for people instead of just books. On the ground floor, a new café has a patio terrace sheltered by the large continuous arcade.
The fourth floor of the original building and additional fifth floor will become destination levels with an event space and an auditorium. The roof will feature a public terrace from which visitors will have spectacular views that connect the building with its surrounding urban context in the heart of the capital of the United States of America.