Last week, the DC Public Library (DCPL) released the first real glimpse of what the made-over Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library might look like. The batch of six renderings illustrates the latest ideas from the architecture team of Dutch firm Mecanoo and D.C.'s own Martinez+Johnson Architecture, but they aren't final: This renovation of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's aging 1972 black steel structure has a long way to go before the project breaks ground.
Speaking over the phone, DCPL's executive director Richard Reyes-Gavilan walked ARCHITECT through what some of these preliminary designs are illustrating. He explains that the team is just starting the schematic design process now. "The ultimate approval from [the National Capital Planning Commission] and the entire regulatory process, we would love to be done with that by this summer, so I would love to have designs done by then," he says. "[T]hree to six months from now would be ideal."
One of the most hotly debated aspects of the renovation has been the roof. The idea to add a couple of stories to the top of the building, perhaps for non-library use, was nixed by the library board back in January, but there are still two options on the table: a rectangular fifth-floor addition or a more curvy fifth-floor addition. "[T]he one that you see in the [new] rendering is sort of a hybrid of the sort of the kidney bean shape and the rectangular one," Reyes-Gavilan says.
"We are still testing what kind of configuration suits the best for the design of the additional floor," Mecanoo writes in an emailed statement to ARCHITECT. "Should the additional floor mimic the rectilinear design or should it have a contrasting shape that clearly distinguishes it from the building?"
The new rendering also includes a green roof for the first time, which Reyes-Gavilan says is "still under discussion." He also points out that the rendering includes "a little rectangular hat" on top of the fifth floor addition—again, not final.
"The rectangular shape that is visible in the roof of the additional floor allows for controlled natural light and ventilation to penetrate the flexible auditorium below," Mecanoo writes.
Four of the new renderings illustrate parts of the interior. Reyes-Gavilan explains that interior "adjacencies" also are not set, meaning that rooms could still be moved around within the floor plans. The most current floor plans were included in the materials submitted to the city's Historic Preservation Review Board in January. There is a lot of red in these renderings—Reyes-Gavilan relates it to Knoll's "classic Womb Chair red"—but he says they haven't discussed colors yet. "Regardless of whether it's a bright red, or a bright green, philosophically I think adding some dramatic flair to the interior spaces of this building is something that we sorely need," he says.
One of the renderings shows a two-floor performance and exhibition space, with red seats, designed to span the fourth and fifth floors. "Again, subject to change, but I actually think that this one will probably end up where it is," Reyes-Gavilan says.
The rendering of the children's room imagines the space on the second floor, on the southeast corner of the building that sits diagonally across the street from the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery (visible in the background) . "What we want from our children's room is discrete spaces that will address our needs for the preschool set, versus the school-age set, versus the tween set," Reyes-Gavilan says. "What you are seeing in that existing rendering is something for [what] looks like the preschool set, but I think there is going to be a much wider variety of textures and spaces ... for the entire age range."
One rendering shows what a reading room could look like on the third floor.
Another shows what a "Maker Space" could look like on a below-ground floor. "[O]ur preliminary thinking was that a lot of the fabrication and innovation didn't necessarily need as much natural light, and so we thought it would work well below grade," Reyes-Gavilan says, "but you know I'm thinking that the energy that these activities will convey are a tremendous selling point to the energy that the building as a whole will convey, and I would love for some of these activities to be front and center for passersby as they walk along G Street or 9th Street or G Place. So there's something in me, personally, that suggests that some of these activities should be more visible to passersby. I'm only one vote, but I could see myself lobbying for moving this."
The only other exterior rendering from the batch shows the café, currently set on the northeast corner of the building at 9th Street and G Place, on the opposite side from the building's current main entrance.
These designs can and probably will change. But the basic ideas in these renderings show, at least, where the discussions are headed.
"I would be thrilled if we could build something resembling some of those interior spaces," Reyes-Gavilan says.