The grand reading room rises to an installation by artist Xenobia Bailey entitled
The renovation preserves Mies van der Rohe’s iconic 1972 design; new energy-efficient windows were tinted bronze to match the originals.
A 1986 mural depicting King’s life was removed, restored and reinstalled in the great hall; a casual seating area was carved out below it.
Pint-sized stools and playful light fixtures await young patrons in the Children’s Library.
In the Digital Commons, computers and glass-enclosed meeting rooms provide welcoming community workspaces.
The renovation preserves Mies van der Rohe’s iconic 1972 design; new energy-efficient windows were tinted bronze to match the originals.
A 1986 mural depicting King’s life was removed, restored and reinstalled in the great hall; a casual seating area was carved out below it.
Pint-sized stools and playful light fixtures await young patrons in the Children’s Library.
In the Digital Commons, computers and glass-enclosed meeting rooms provide welcoming community workspaces.

History Reborn

After a $211 million makeover, DC’s flagship Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library reopens

Washington’s central library has the distinction of being the only building Ludwig Mies van der Rohe designed in the city—and the only library in the German architect’s portfolio. Another distinction: It was named after Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1971, just before opening.

Decades later, the building had fallen into disrepair. Its gloomy, utilitarian interiors created a less-than-welcoming experience for visitors and staff. A visionary plan, based on years of research, community outreach and architectural review, was hatched to reimagine it. Following a three-year, $211 million renovation, the library is scheduled to reopen on September 24—under safe-distancing conditions.

The redesign spearheaded by Mecanoo, a Dutch architecture firm, and OTJ Architects’ DC office honors the legacies of both Mies and King. Though it preserved the iconic exterior and main-level grand entry hall, other moves took the structure in entirely new directions. Two spiraling staircases with skylights replaced dingy bricked stairwells. There’s an indoor slide for kids, a new dual-height reading room, a café with an outdoor terrace and a two-story auditorium. An events atrium—built atop the original four-story structure but set back so it doesn’t alter the view from the street—is rimmed by a public roof garden.

Richard Reyes-Gavilan, executive director of the DC Public Library system, looks forward to welcoming patrons. “The building is night and day from what we replaced in 2017,” he remarks. “Talking about a structure built primarily for the use and enjoyment of District residents, this is the most inspirational, useful and democratic building in the city now.”