Transformation of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library

Transformation of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library

The central library will re-open in fall 2020


The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, D.C.’s central library, is undergoing a complete modernization. When it reopens the transformed flagship library will feature:

  • a spectacular new, vibrant and transparent entryway
  • sculptured monumental staircase
  • a large auditorium and conference center 
  • creative spaces for fabrication, music production and art creation 
  • ground level café with patio
  • double-height reading room 
  • newly designed special collections space
  • a roof top terrace

Once the $211 million rehabilitation is complete the library will become the center of activity for the already vibrant downtown area. The library closed on March 4, 2017, and construction is well underway. The new library will open in the fall of 2020.

Final Designs | Regulatory Review | Library Building Program
Interim Library Services | Community Engagement
Architect Selection | Project Background | Videos | Awards and Certifications

View our web cameras to see the progress.

View the final designs for the MLK Jr. Memorial Library Modernization.


Final Design

Working with the award-winning design team of Martinez + Johnson Architecture and Mecanoo,  Gilbane, in a joint venture with Smoot Construction, was selected as the construction manager at-risk for the landmark modernization of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library. 

Awards and Certifications

  • D.C. Office of Historic Preservation, Publication Award, for the building's Design Guidelines

Regulatory Review Process

The design for the central library underwent extensive regulatory review by three agencies. The lead agency is the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), which has purview because the building is historically designated and it sits within the central area of the nation's capital. The other two agencies are the Commission of Fine Arts (CFA) and the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB). NCPC gave final approval to the plans at a hearing on Oct. 6, 2016. The Commission of Fine Arts reviewed and approved the plans at a public meeting on Oct. 20, 2016.

Library Building Program

Through community input, conversations with staff, review of other central libraries around the world and consultations with the architect team, the Library developed a Library Building Program. It is guided by four principles:
  • Balance the joy of reading with space for innovation, creation, collaboration and technology.
  • Showcase the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Respect the building’s historic designation and the industrial, modern style of the original architect, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.
  • Create a space that is bright, open, flexible and welcoming for all.
In short, the aim is to go beyond a library that is merely transactional – a place where you go simply to check out a book – to create a library that truly transforms lives – a world-class library for the 21st Century.

Interim Library Services

During construction, the central library will remain closed. Library services are being provided through expanded services across the city and at a temporary Library Express, at 1990 K St. NW (entrance is on 20th St. NW between K St. and I St.) Learn more at

Community Engagement

Community input was a critical part of the design process for the modernization project. The Library began seeking ideas about what residents wanted to see in a modernized central library in the fall of 2013. This process continued throughout the design process.

Community Meetings

The Library hosted more than 60 community meetings with stakeholders around the city to share design ideas and gather feedback from residents.

In February 2017, the Library hosted a final design meeting to reveal the final designs, inform customers about plans for closing and, provide updates on interim services.

In November and December 2016, the Library hosted eight city-wide community meetings to share the latest designs. See the presentation from the meeting that was held at MLK Library on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016. See a compilation of the comments received.

In November 2015, as part of the design process, the Library hosted a community forum entitled "Dr. King in D.C. -- A Community Conversation." 

In September 2014, the Library convened neighborhood meetings to answer questions and get residents ideas for the building. Each meeting was hosted by a member of the MLK Library Renovation Advisory Panel. More than 60 people attended the meetings held at Bellevue/William O. Lockridge Library, Francis A. Gregory Library and in the West End neighborhood (at St. Paul's Parish). In addition, the design team presented the designs at ANC meetings, two Penn Quarter Neighbors Association meetings and gave a presentation at the National Building Museum.

Focus Groups and Surveys

The Library conducted focus groups and surveys with a wide range of residents including adults, seniors, teens, school-age children, teachers, parents with young children, Spanish-speaking customers and other stakeholders. 

Here's some of what we heard:

Architect Selection Process

The library has hired the award-winning design team of Martinez + Johnson Architecture and MecanooMartinez + Johnson is a D.C.-based architecture firm that has extensive experience with historic modernization projects including D.C.’s Takoma Park and Georgetown libraries. Mecanoo is a Dutch-based firm whose work includes Boston’s Dudley Municipal Center and the Library of Birmingham in England.

The Library convened an Advisory Panel of community stakeholders who provided input throughout the design process.

Learn more about the architect selection process 

Project Background

Planning for the modernization of the central library began in 2011 and enlisted both local and national experts as well as extensive community engagement. Learn more.

Videos Documenting the Modernization

Learn more about the restoration of the mural depicting events in the life of Dr. King.

Explore the new art coming to the library and learn more about artist Xenobia Bailey.

Check out the new 5th floor space, including a green roof and outdoor terrace.