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Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library Renovation


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dmadsen, hanley wood, llc

Project Name

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library Renovation


DC Public Library




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In February 2014, DC Public Library selected Netherlands-based firm Mecanoo and D.C.-based Martinez+Johnson Architecture to renovate the system's Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Completed in 1972, the structure is the only building in Washington, D.C., designed by Mies and the only library he designed.

Read ARCHITECT's past coverage of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library.

Project Description


The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, D.C. is housed in a 37,000m2 landmark building that originally opened in 1972. It is the only library designed by modern master Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. In his work transparency and light stand as metaphors for freedom and knowledge, the very principles of Dr. King’s life teachings. 

Mecanoo’s vision for the MLK Library revolves around respect for the original architecture while updating the building to a modern library that reflects a focus on people, celebrating the exchange of knowledge, ideas and culture.

Mecanoo, together with local partner Martinez+Johnson Architecture will transform the main entrance and two adjacent cores into focal points, creating new spaces and allowing more natural light into the building. Mecanoo’s proposal does not compromise the understanding of the landmark but rather establishes an elegant composition with a different scale and density, creating a relationship with the building and the urban context.

Strategic elimination of masonry perimeter walls that connect the building with its surrounding public space, the introduction of clear sight lines to activities throughout the building, and incorporating new programme spaces that better serve the community are some of the new library changes. 

The glazed façade perimeter of the building is now for people as well as books. Even the roof becomes landscaped as a contemporary garden. From this place, spectacular views connect the building with its surrounding urban context in the heart of the capital of the United States of America.


Mecanoo with Martinez+Johnson Architecture presents a unique paring primed to deliver a Next Generation Library project that celebrates MLK’s renowned Miesian architecture while embracing Washington DC’s contemporary culture and changing needs. Our team’s collective resources provide for a full range of Architectural design and related services for the renovation of the library and for entitlements for a possible addition to the building. Within the scope of these services, we will create a new vision for the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library that presents innovative opportunities for educational engagement, delivers a comprehensive arrangement that unifies both commercial and library directives, and is an attractive catalyst for community activity.

In response to these challenges, we present a robust architectural design team with a broad range of relevant experience together with world-class relevant design abilities, highly experienced preservation sensitivities, strongly developed process skills, and the technical expertise necessary to craft and realize the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library’s vision for this facility. Ours is a carefully balanced collaboration of leading voices in architectural design, innovation in public libraries, and experience working in the District of Columbia. We thoroughly understand the vision of developing a 21st century library within the 20th century facility, transforming it in the process, and maintaining its historical significance. We have experience in international collaborations with our respective partners and sub-consultants and are skilled and experienced within the DC entitlement process, having undertaken decades of work involving historic resources.

We utilize a proven process of information sharing and consensus building while adhering to our clients’ goals and requirements to surpass expectations. Both firms have a high level of experience working with Building Information Modelling (BIM) to control costs, to expedite planning, to maintain high quality throughout the design and construction process, and to provide an efficient maintenance model for long term building operation.
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