Concept Design Executive Summary

Concept Design Executive Summary

The architect team of Martinez + Johnson and Mecanoo has completed its concept design for the renovation of the MLK Memorial Library. This concept design is not final; we hope it will spark input, reaction and comments from community members, which will inform the final plan.  This summary calls out highlights from the 130-page document provided by the architects.

Guiding Principles

The concept design seeks to balance the joy of reading with space for innovation, creation and technology; showcase both the legacy of Dr. King and the industrial, modern style of the building’s architect, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe; respect and honor the building’s historic designation while embracing the future; create a space that is bright, open, functional and welcoming – for District residents, tourists in the nation’s capital and vulnerable populations. In short, the aim is to go beyond a library that is merely transactional – a place where you go to checkout a book – to create a library that transforms lives – a knock-your-socks-off library for the 21st century.

Key Design Recommendations

Lower Level: Innovation & Teen Space

In response to community suggestions that space for teens be near or combined with an area for innovation, the lower level will provide classrooms and workshop space for experimenting with the latest technologies – and even making a mess with plenty of noise acceptable! The innovation spirit will extend to the Teen Area with a digital media center, homework center, video-viewing space, audio space and gaming area.
Also on the lower level will be less lively – but very important – spaces for archival and general storage.

Ground (Entrance) Level: City Market

In focus groups, online discussions and community meetings, one suggestion surfaced repeatedly and consistently: Create an eye-catching, engaging, bright and activity-filled entrance experience for the new library. The concept design features a grand welcoming area on the entrance level offering clear sightlines into open, central areas for elevators and stairways. On this level, visitors also will find popular books and media, and a library terrace.

Second Level: Education & Children’s Area

The east side of level two will be home to the Children’s Hub – with plenty of space for age-appropriate media, technology, and other educational and recreational resources for children from infancy to age 12. Low shelving will allow staff to have a clear overview of the entire space. Fun and colorful furniture, an enclosed storytelling room and restrooms designed for children and parents will make this space inviting and functional for a range of ages.
The center of level two will offer adult space – in close proximity to, but still separate from, the children’s area. Perfect for parents who want to be close, but in an adult-focused environment.
The northwest corner will house the Center for Adaptive Services, including a research and reading area, employee offices, and meeting rooms for use by staff or visitors.

Third Level: Reading Center

Historically, libraries have been about books – shelves and shelves of books – and spaces to read, study and research. Many community members asked that the new library continue to offer such spaces, even while embracing technology, and new ways of learning and exploring. The third level will feature a traditional library space, including a long wall entirely filled with books. Level three also will house the executive offices of the DC Public Library, the meeting room for the Library Board of Trustees, and library business and administrative offices.

Fourth Level: History & Future

Unlike the current building, which houses Washingtoniana and Black Studies in isolated or hard-to-find areas, the renovated MLK Library will place these treasures on the same level as a bustling restaurant, exhibit and conference space and a 300-seat auditorium for debates, lectures and performances. Also on this level, a staircase will connect to a café and rooftop garden above. Thus, in the new MLK Library, level four becomes a destination for library visitors, increasing exposure to Washingtoniana and the Black Studies Center – a key request of some community members.

Roof Level: Terrace, Gardens, Café

Public access to a beautiful, lively rooftop space in the heart of the vibrant Gallery Place neighborhood – a dream come true for many D.C. residents. The currently unused rooftop becomes a Discovery Terrace with seating, performance space, plants and flowers and a café.

Opportunities for Community Input

The architects have been astonished at – and delighted by – the outpouring of public interest in this project. Community ideas and concerns have shaped and enhanced aspects of the design. Whether community members are sharing ideas from other libraries, requesting specific services or emphasizing the need to keep Dr. King’s legacy front and center, public input matters. Get information about other community input opportunities, share ideas, sign up for email updates, and learn about events at

Next Steps

Because the library is an historic landmark, the design will have to be reviewed and approved by several city and federal preservation agencies, including the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts (CFA), the D.C. Historic Preservation Office and the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB). The Library expects those approval processes to begin in early fall.