CONCEPT PLAN TEC SUBMITTAL ARCHITECTURAL SERVICES | NEW MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. MEMORIAL LIBRARY
A LEGACY OF TRANSFORMATION
In 1972, when the DC Central Library was dedicated to
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it was the rst central library
in a major US city named for an African American. Dr. King’s passionate appeals for social justice and freedom for all Americans galvanized our nation, bringing about extraordinary change within what had been tightly structured social constraints. His vision for a new world—
shared in ery speeches, deeply insightful writing, and
nonviolent protest—was powerful and yet controlled
and dignied. His legacy has been nothing short of
transformational.The architect behind the building dedicated to this legacy, Mies van der Rohe, is himself connected to transformational works. After leaving Nazi Germany in 1937 to escape intellectual and artistic repression, he found in America a new beginning for his vision of a modern architecture. Mies aspired to create architecture with a structural order
carefully balanced against the freedom of free-owing
open space. The rigorous and disciplined approach that he brought to his buildings was particularly well suited to the highly ordered character of mid-Twentieth Century libraries. His design of the DC Central Library placed the primary programmatic elements within the order of the structural grid, creating dynamic open vistas into and through the building. One could say that Mies applied his design tenets
in a powerful and yet controlled and dignied manner.
While these two Twentieth Century giants stand apart by circumstance, both Dr. King and Mies van der Rohe dedicated themselves to leveling hierarchies and overturning long-standing traditions. Moreover, their names have been, and will continue to be, connected through this landmark building. Indeed, the links between King and Mies—their
powerful yet controlled and dignied approaches to their respective life’s work—have inuenced our approach to the
design of this new library. In recognition of Dr. King’s legacy of freedom and equality, the DC Central Library must be a public place for all. This imperative means universal access to collections, services, technology, tools and partnerships to acquire the skills to be successful. The streetscape that migrates from the city grid into and through the building reinforces this connection between our collective success and the resources we put into action. Our vision includes a visual reminder of Dr. King’s caution that “change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.” A new mural, set to the scale of the Library’s newly expanded atrium, is visible from all points and supported by interpretive elements that reinforce the civil rights leader’s commitment to action and transformation.
Reecting Mies’ belief that “architecture is the will of an epoch translated into space,” we must rst accept that
our time has evolved. The reimagined Library will feature
interconnected, free-owing space carried vertically
throughout the building. Our design respects the materiality
of the ground oor/plaza. We will fully preserve one gracious
reading room and deploy subtle detailing to help unfold a bold new future for the Library as a whole. We believe historic preservation is not an obstacle to be overcome but, rather, an opportunity to be seized and celebrated. The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library will, in its new form, continue to serve as an important memorial to the civil rights leader and a source of pride for the African- American community. Building upon DC residents’ strong connection to this Library, we propose an assertive design that connects the Library to its vibrant host city while acknowledging its important position in our nation’s capital.
A VIBRANT LANDMARK
The Library not only serves the city and its people, it embodies the tangled complexities and wonderful diversity of the urban landscape. It is a microcosm of the city, imbued with rich resources that inspire residents to explore, connect, participate and create. It is also an intellectual extension of the city street—a public intersection where people share ideas and knowledge. As this historical landmark building, inextricably tied to the powerful legacy of its namesake, moves toward a new, transformational library design, our vision celebrates the vitality of the people who move through and around the nation’s capital. Markets, parks and public plazas are the vibrant centers of our cities. As one of the most public of buildings, the Library must embrace the ethos of those types of spaces.The corner of 9th and G streets is a dynamic intersection. Because of the staggered streets, the Library enjoys a high level of visibility, especially from the Verizon Center. Moving toward the building, residents and visitors alike pick up visual cues that something exciting is going on there. The color and materiality of new library spaces and programs are visible through and above the building’s restored façade. This effect is accentuated during the evening hours with interior and exterior lighting. We are not designing a monument to architecture. We are creating an urban stage—knowledge parks and resource markets—that showcases people engaging people. We are desegregating the silos of information and knowledge by creating hybrid places for sharing and connecting at the core of the library—the street that runs through the building.
A PLACE OF ACTION AND IDEAS
Like the streets that bring residents and visitors to its door, the Library is a place for engagement and creativity. It is a place of action and ideas. It provides customers the opportunity for exploration, participation, creation and connection. The visitor experience begins outside and continues as pedestrians are drawn into the main entrance. Subtle modulations in the existing granite pavers pull patrons into the generous vestibule and foyer to reveal the expansive atrium lobby, creating the quintessential “Aha!” moment. From this vantage point, the concept of “the landscaped path” becomes fully apparent. Cascading stairs and landings are punctuated with plantings, guiding visitors toward the major program components that are easily visible and accessible. The rooftop gardens and residential units are visible from longer views toward the Library. A café, amphitheater, and pedestrian walkway animate the roof program with constant activity. Moving toward and through the building, visitors immediately feel the organic connection from city to street—then street to Library—then Library to rooftop gardens, and back again. If a residential development were to be extended above the Library, the bucolic nature of the roof plane would provide an amenity that could also be enjoyed by those living
on the upper two oors.
Ever-present throughout the building is the “cloud”—a
oating volume of creative production and interactive
engagement, a “community kitchen” of ideas and innovation. The cloud houses new library programs associated with sharing, innovation and prototyping. The street extension that ascends through the Library extends over the top of the cloud to create new rooftop destinations,
including an indoor/outdoor café, amphitheater, community
gardens, and an urban oasis for relaxation above the bustling streets below. Physical displays and new media stream down core walls as if new data were precipitating from the cloud to mix with the more traditional collections below. As suggested in your own program document, the spaces and activities in the cloud do not exist in the Library today, or even in other libraries. Like the water vapor of actual clouds, it is an ever-changing frontier serviced by robust
infrastructure in highly exible, column-free spaces. The cloud maintains operational exibility, as it can be accessed
by an independent set of elevators that are outside the secure boundary of the Library.
THE LIBRARY OF THE FUTURE
Even as we look to create the Library of the future, we acknowledge that the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library’s legacy of transformation is embodied in its historically protected spaces. Mies created open vistas into
and through the building that he then punctuated with nely
crafted objects anchoring particular programs. This concept
worked exceptionally well at the ground-oor level but has
presented challenges as library components were positioned
vertically on ve oors. We believe in preserving this spirit
of connectivity with new vistas that bridge the full vertical extent of the Library.