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Check Out Some Renderings for the Proposed MLK Library Renovations

by Prince Of Petworth — February 10, 2014 at 3:15 pm 39 Comments

Rendering via STUDIOS + Freelon

From a press release:

“The DC Public Library has received preliminary design ideas for the historic renovation of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library.

The design ideas are now displayed at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, in neighborhood libraries and on the library’s website. In addition, teams will present their design ideas and approach at a public meeting on Sat., Feb. 15.

In December, the Library selected Mecanoo/Martinez + Johnson Architecture; Patkau Architects/Ayers Saint Gross with Krueck +Sexton; and STUDIOS Architecture/The Freelon Group as the final three architect teams. These finalists have developed two preliminary design ideas: one of a stand-alone library and one of a mixed-use building with additional floors. Both design ideas are intended to show each team’s vision and approach to renovating the central library.

No decisions have been made on the type or extent of the renovations or additions to the library.”

You can see some renderings here.

  • SusanRH

    That roof has the potential to be amazing

  • Anonymous

    I must be missing something in that picture! What would keep people from tumbling off the edge of the roof?

  • Anonymous

    Martinez/Johnson/Mecanoo ALL THE WAY!!!

  • js

    Error (404)
    We can’t find the page you’re looking for. Check out our Help Center and forums for help, or head back to home.

    • Oh that stinks – it was working this morning. They must’ve just taken them down. Dang, the photo above is the only one I downloaded.

  • KenyonDweller

    I disagree about that roof. The DC library was designed by the great Bauhaus architect Mies van der Rohe. It is the only van der Rohe library in existence. Plopping that monstrosity on top of it would destroy it.

    • Sam


      The problems with the library are not due to the existing structure, but the inability to keep homeless people from making it smell like urine constantly.

    • Anonymous

      Why do people get taken in by starchitect vs. the merit’s and usefulness of the structure itself? Plenty of “famous” architects designed ugly things that were not useful for their purpose. DC is full of these things. I think the current library is a monstrosity, no matter who built it.

      • Duponter

        One person’s monstrosity is another’s object of affection. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If you have a useful argument about why the structure is not useful in its current state weighed against the cost/usefulness factor following some sort of renovation, fine, present that. But just because you find it ugly doesn’t mean it should be erased.

        I mean, do we need another architecturally bland office building over there?

        I think the current problems have little to do with aesthetics or efficient use of space and can be solved without destroying the historical significance. I’d rather it be torn down completely than have someone else’s design altered willy-nilly.

        • Honestly – no snark – WHY is it beautiful/significant beyond any other glass box building of that era? I’m totally ready to being educated. Pompidou Center was reviled but has largely proved itself. Gehry is still an affront to many but is still interesting and innovative. I.M. Pei same. Hallgrimur offends many yet cannot be dismissed.

          MLK library looks to most like an ordinary black box. What are we missing?

      • Anon

        I’m with you. They make such a big deal of this building yet it’s not suited for its purpose .

      • KenyonDweller

        I for one find it beautiful, as do many people. Its aesthetics don’t have to be destroyed to make more useful. Mies van der Rohe was one of the founders of modernism, far more than a “starchitect” as you so cutely put it. If that addition is approved, it will make DC the laughingstock of architecture textbooks for generations.

    • Truxton Thomas

      Wait a minute, maybe you really CAN polish a turd.

  • Anonymous

    None of the links to the renderings are working!

    • textdoc

      They aren’t working for me either, but I assumed it was my work blocking dropbox.

  • Anonymous

    The existing library building wastes an incredible amount of energy, spending around $1 million per year on electricity, so maybe they should work on that first. Its electricity usage is comparable to 1,000 typical American homes, which at 400,000 sq ft is extremely high on a per sq ft basis (roughly four times higher than a typical home).

    • Anonymous


    • KenyonDweller

      This is an argument for improving its function, not destroying its design.

    • StatingTheObvious

      You do realize a complete remodel of the existing library structure to improve energy efficiency is part of this whole plan, right? And that it makes financial sense to do both parts as a whole?

  • happy camper

    Now THAT is an amazing rendering. Best looking green roof I’ve ever seen.

  • monkeydaddy

    Mies van der Rohe’s student/employee Robin Walker wrote: “if one can…accept that the buildings of the area are structurally and functionally obsolete…a good case can be made for for its total demolition and reconstruction. It should be clear that is possible to envisage a total and radical redevelopment of the area to serve the requirements of the present and the foreseeable future in relation to an overall policy and plan for the whole city.” (Forgnan, April 1962, 13)

    In other words: Not this building with a fancy hat, not this building by an architect whose best work is elsewhere.

    Save something worth saving. Not this building.

    • Walker was one student of Mies’, and another might say something completely different, so caution should be exercised in strained ad verecundiam arguments, no?

      • Anonymous


      • monkeydaddy

        I was actually looking for a quote from Mies himself, but read the argument itself — it does not depend on the authority of an architect you’ve never heard of. One reason for Mies’s unadorned modernism was that a particular structure cannot be expected to remain economically competitive with new technology and changing real estate demand tied to place. This was a decided break from the more traditional stance that a building is forever. The barebones approach makes it relatively easy to retrofit, or demolish and replace — presumably with another unadorned box. Naturally he would have applied this logic to any building except one with his name on it, but the logic applies to the building he built. And if you have followed the multi-year process that has brought us this far — whether to save an inefficient, unbeloved, obsolete building dominated by an open space unsuited to foreseeable library function, because it was built by a famous architect, although not one with ties to the city or without better exemplary work elsewhere — you might wonder why we are still screwing around with this building.

        • Your points are fair, and I’m not even disregarding the validity that Mies not want the MLK building retrofitted if he were alive today. I just think basing arguments on those kinds of speculations is risky.

          Moreover, a hallmark of his work of this type (e.g. the New National Gallery, the buildings at IIT, his Convention Hall study, etc.) was that they were designed to be programmable spaces, that is they can outlast their present mundane functions. In other words, the exact situation in which DC finds itself with MLK. Reprogram the space inside, but preserve the architecture.

  • I sent these designs straight to my department’s planners. Would love to see more of this!

  • What is operating in the background of many ‘tear it down’ comments is our collective allergy to the heavy-handed use of historic designation and the overuse of nostalgia in place of worthwhile preservation. Mies is one of a VERY few architects of the 20th century whose work will endure beyond this time and succeeding eras and styles and, as such, his building should be saved from demolition.

    We’ve simply been inundated with poor knock-offs and unnecessary romantic time-capsule historic overlays hindering true, necessary human progress, rendering our reflexive response to preservation to be, “That eyesore? The one with the sh*t window efficiency?” Really? I’m not sure the Eiffel Tower is the most effective radio transmitter today and the Sydney Opera House is a terrible acoustic space. Nevertheless, we measure and value different things in different ways, and architecture is one of those things we value beyond their economics (like sports). This is not to excuse poor building performance, but many of these building (Mies’ Farnsworth House, Utzon’s Sydney Opera, Gehry’s Bilboa) were experimental in nature, pushing the envelope of building and design technology of their day. How’s that Day 1 Smartphone App working for you? That’s bits in your hand – these are buildings in nature occupied by a-holes like us.

    Because of their scarcity, inherent discipline, and quality, Mies’ buildings ARE landmarks. This issue is, as an earlier poster said, beyond personal taste. I personally can’t stand Frank Gehry buildings, but they are certainly works to be valued and protected.

    • monkeydaddy

      I recommend a field trip to the MPD 4th District at 6001 Georgia Ave. It’s another low-rise modernist black box, and a fine example of the style, although not by Mies. It might even have nice terrazo floors, although I’ve not been inside. Or take a field trip to Chicago to see truly landmark Mies buildings of higher quality, and in their native setting (i.e. counterposed with other glass boxes, whose reflections interact in cool, emergent ways). But the MLK library is weak sauce as a building at that location for that function, and neither unique nor distinctive but for the architect’s name.

    • Anonymous

      I don’t think things should be revered simply for a “big name” who designed it. Plenty of great artists have painted bad works… plenty of great coaches have done a bad bad with certain teams… great restaurateurs have opened bad restaurants… this is the same. Public buildings should be revered (or not) by the public who enjoys (or doesn’t) them. We shouldn’t be obligated to be saddled with a pink elephant in our midst just because a few people say it’s important. And we can’t conflate things like the Post Office Building, which was generally revered and appreciated by the masses. It was just the city and government who didn’t like it because it was dilapidated and they were land hungry. This is different. Things like the Central Library are much-hated because it is a basically class brutalism that isn’t funcional for its main purpose, which is a grand central library. It looks like a square Death Star.

      If we have the keep the structure as is, then the city should sell the structure to the highest bidder and construct a true Central library elsewhere. If the Spy Museum doesn’t work out, then go into the Carnegie Space and build way down, with skylights in the square to add some natural light.

  • So clearly you’re a fan – can you please educate the rest of us as to why this is more than just a box? What makes it transcend a box?

    • anonymous

      its clean. it provides an open, adaptable space and was designed by the person who led the movement for clean, structurally expressive, detail oriented, no-useless-ornamentation architecture. every ‘other glass box of that era’ was based on principles that mies pushed. that may not mean the same thing to everyone, but it is important. pollock just threw paint at easel, anyone can do that right? what makes his different?

      does that mean its perfect? no. it requires a ton of maintenance and restoration, and to be reconsidered for new programming. the mecanoo and patkau designs offer tasteful, modern edits to the structure while keeping it true to itself. the studios/freelon submission is a monstrosity and will date itself rapidly.

      • Its clean – yes – got that – a box is “clean.” But sorry – I still need an explanation of “structurally expressive, detail oriented.” Also please explain what is “useless ornamentation architecture”? (Though I will stipulate that all ornamentation is by definition useless.)

        And what exactly were the “principles” of every other glass box of that era that Mies pushed?

        • Victoria, at the risk of sounding like (even more of) a pedant, I’ll say that there have been scholarly articles written on just Mies’ facade corner details on his high-rise built work. You might not appreciate it, but then again, I don’t read articles on the newest robotic surgery techniques-it’s outside my scope. If you don’t dig Mies, that’s cool, you’re certainly not alone. But few people who study architecture past their armchairs dismiss his work as ugly boxes.

        • Anonymous

          Victoria, I don’t think that you understand the historical significance of Mies van der Rohe. While I’m personally not a fan aesthetically, he was quite a game-changer in architecture. (Spend some time on google if you want greater detail as to “why”.) For this reason, this building is worth preserving – as an important slice of history.

    • Anonymous

      Mies was a better furniture designer than he was an architect. But no one likes to admit that dirty little secret.

    • Anonymous

      Check out minutes 32-38 of this video on Mies’ Seagram Building in NY to get an idea why people still revere him: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ik3nylBWyQ

  • bb

    Put me solidly in the “tear it down” camp. The building is non-functional, and no amount of tinkering can make it work. Some people think the FBI building is nice too, but they’re just straight up wrong.

  • lovefifteen

    Tear it down. One of the worst buildings I’ve ever encountered. Laughable to call it “clean”. It’s disgusting, and we all know it. No one in their right mind enjoys spending time at that toxic library/homeless shelter.

    • By your logic, at various points in the District’s not-too-distant past we should have demolished half of the city east of 16th St. Afterall, many ‘beautiful’ or ‘ugly’ rowhomes (depending on one’s personal taste) are purchased in pretty tough condition, in outmoded layouts, with outdated infrastructure and made ‘clean’, useful, and up-to-date technologically, rather than simply razing them.
      It’s not the building’s fault that DC hasn’t been a good steward of the MLK facility and its patrons.


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