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MLK Library Will Be Redesigned by Mecanoo and Martinez + Johnson

The architecture firms will redesign DC's main public library.

Mecanoo and Martinez + Johnson's design includes a two-story addition and rooftop gardens.

An architecture team comprised of the Dutch firm Mecanoo and District-based Martinez + Johnson has been selected to redesign DC’s flagship Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, city officials announced Tuesday.

The overhaul of the Ludwig Mies van der Rohe-designed building at Ninth and G streets, Northwest, will bring long-overdue infrastructure upgrades, and may also include the addition of mixed-use retail as well as additional floors.

“Today, the District takes another step towards giving our residents the great central library they deserve,” Mayor Vince Gray announced at the library.

Gray has said the city will commit $103 million over the next five fiscal years toward the library renovation, costs for which have been estimated to run to at least $250 million. He told reporters that the District will seek a public-private partnership to make up the balance.

The MLK Library opened in 1972 and received local and national historic landmark status in 2007. The winning design posits two additional floors built at a diagonal from the original building along with rooftop gardens.

“There’s an overlaying sense of creating a very special place people want to be,” Gary Martinez, a principal of one of the winning firms, tells Washingtonian. “It’s not about the books anymore. It’s about the people.”

Martinez’s team beat out two other finalists, which were culled from 26 bids submitted last fall. Some library stakeholders are upset the District awarded the contract with minimal public input. Renderings from the finalist teams were only published on February 7, and a single public presentation was held on Saturday.

“I think it was a backwards process.,” says Robin Diener, the president of the MLK Library Friends. Diener was a member of a 14-person advisory committee that helped pick the architects, but says that group had a “very minimal role in selection.”

Gray and Martinez say there will be more public input now that an architecture team has been selected. Martinez says his firm will “wipe the slate clean” and develop a final design in 18 to 20 months and meetings with community stakeholders.

Despite those assurances, an MLK Library that combines residential and commercial development still has many detractors, among them Diener, who is also the director of the DC Library Renaissance Project, a Ralph Nader-backed group that has fought the introduction of commercial space in other library building projects. Any addition to the MLK Library, she says, should be dedicated to public use. Asks Diener: “Would you put luxury housing on top of the Martin Luther King Jr. Library—a slain civil rights worker?”

20140207 Tec Booklet Final by Benjamin Freed

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.