Trent Bell

“It's exquisite in terms of the inventiveness, be it the field of lights in the auditorium or the more playful rings in the children's library. Nothing seems to be out of place.” —Juror Richard Southwick, FAIA

The only library Mies van der Rohe ever designed, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in downtown Washington, D.C., was originally completed in 1972. The D.C. public library system recently undertook a renovation project to modernize the structure, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and incorporate new community spaces.

The updated architectural design by Mecanoo features a majestic public staircase, an auditorium, a conference center, and a two-story reading room. Lighting design by local firm George Sexton Associates complements each of these areas, including integrated handrail lighting for the staircase and variable track lighting within the exhibition spaces. Other touches include a custom LED uplight system in the reading room, which spotlights a commissioned art installation on the ceiling, and new LED lighting in the library that replicates the original design and adheres to LEED Silver certification standards. Exterior lighting compliments the 1972 van Der Rohe design while meeting Dark Sky requirements and other LEED specs.

Robert Benson Photography
Trent Bell
Trent Bell
Trent Bell
Trent Bell
Trent Bell


Project Name: Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library
Location: Washington, D.C.
Client/Owner: DC Public Library System
Lighting Designer: George Sexton Associates LLC
Architects: Mecanoo, OTJ Architects
Landscape Architect: Oehme van Sweden
Photographers: Robert Benson Photography, Trent Bell Photography

Project Size: 332,000 SF
Project Cost: $210,000,000
Watts per Square Foot: .42 W/sf
Code Compliance: ASHRAE 90.1 2007
Lighting Product Manufacturers: Acolyte; Axis Lighting; B-K Lighting; Delray Lighting; Edison Price Lighting; Elliptipar; Fluxwerx; Gotham; i2Systens; LED Linear; Litelab; Luminni; Mark Architectural Lighting; Modalight; National Lighting; Optic Arts; Pinnacle Architectural Lighting; Portfolio Lighting; Prudential; Soraa; Tivoli Lighting; Vode Lighting; Winona; XAL; Zaneen

This article first appeared in the January/Febuary 2023 issue of ARCHITECT.