The building was designed by the internationally famous architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and was constructed in 1972 as the District of Columbia’s central library to replace the 1903 Carnegie Library which had grown inadequate to meet contemporary needs. It is the only building by Mies in the Washington area. Over the years the building suffered from deferred maintenance, an inadequate HVAC system and numerous other problems. In 2006 former Mayor Anthony Williams proposed selling the building and constructing a new library on a different site. Among others, the Committee of 100 successfully opposed this plan and urged that the library be kept in the Mies building. The Committee also supported the successful effort in 2007 to landmark the building’s exterior and significant parts of its interior.
However, substantial problems remained, and the City ultimately decided that a complete rethinking and renovation of the building was required, including the possibility of adding additional floors, reconfiguring the interior and designing the building for income-producing mixed use. Mies in his original plans contemplated adding as many as two additional floors and designed the building to support the additional weight.
In 2012 the City held a competition for proposals to redesign the building, which was won by the Dutch-based architectural firm Mecanoo in conjunction with the local firm Martinez + Johnson. The renovation is estimated to cost $250 million, with the City currently committed to $103 of that amount. The Committee of 100 has been intimately involved in consultation meetings on the building’s renovation and was represented on the Advisory Council that has offered recommendations on the design and use of the building. A decision was made against additional floors and commercial use of the building. Construction is now nearing completion on the project, with a complete systems upgrade, a rooftop garden addition, and major interior rehabilitation for improvement in public spaces and facilities. Reopening to the public is scheduled for September 27, 2020.
- C100 Comments MLK Library Renovation
- October 22, 2014, Stuart Gosswein
The Committee of 100 prefers retaining the current four-story structure. The Committee of 100 respectfully requests that a fifth concept design (Alternative E) consisting of a one-story extension of the Mies designed building be included within the scope of the current Environmental Assessment and Section 106 consultations in case a fifth floor is deemed necessary based on further analysis. The Committee of 100 supports a combination of compatible elements from the other four Alternatives described above within a newly renovated building although this should not include rooftop trees or outside access.
- 2012-09-27 C100 Testimony Before City Council Regarding Future Of MLK Library
- September 27, 2012, Stuart Gosswein