Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library Receives the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation National Preservation Award

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Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library Receives the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation National Preservation Award

One of three projects to earn the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s highest honor 

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library has served the District of Columbia since 1972. At one point, years of deferred maintenance had taken their toll on the building. As a result, it was considered too old, too big and too far beyond repair to remain the city’s central library. Now, after a three-year, $210 million modernization, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library has earned the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s highest honor, the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation National Preservation Award. 

The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation National Preservation Awards celebrate the best in historic preservation, adaptive reuse, and re-imagining of historic buildings. Given as part of the National Preservation Awards presented, the Driehaus Awards recognize efforts such as citizens saving and maintaining important landmarks, companies and artisans restoring the richness of the past, public officials supporting preservation projects and legislation in their communities, and educators and journalists helping Americans understand the value of preservation.

Originally designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the architect team of Mecanoo and OTJ Architects modernized the building. As a result, the landmarked building now has 100,000 square feet of additional public space. New features include:

  • A dramatic set of monumental stairs.
  • An auditorium and conference center.
  • A rooftop event space and terrace.
  • Dedicated exhibition spaces
  • Co-working spaces, 
  • A double-height grand reading room,
  • A colorful children’s room and playground slide
  • A café and patio 
  • A creative lab for music production, emerging technologies and a dance studio

"We knew the modernization of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library was an unprecedented opportunity to create an architectural masterpiece that also met the needs of our community. We are honored by this recognition, which is a testament to the District’s continued commitment to a world-class library system. This achievement is a win for the DC Public Library and for District residents,” said Washington, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser.

"The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library modernization achieved three critical goals. It transformed an outdated transactional space into an inspiring center of learning for a new generation of Washingtonians; it honored the spirit of Dr. King in meaningful ways both architecturally and programmatically; and it respected and meticulously preserved Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's only realized library in the world," said Richard Reyes-Gavilan, executive director of the DC Public Library. "The work done on this project over the course of almost seven years is career defining for myself and so many of my colleagues. On behalf of everyone who contributed to its success, I am honored that DC Public Library has received this prestigious award."

The modernized Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library resonates with District residents and the historic preservation community. Although delayed a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 11,000 people attended the community day to celebrate the project’s completion in September.  

“The National Preservation Awards are an inspiring showcase of how historic preservation continues to evolve as a powerful force that builds stronger communities throughout our country,” said Paul Edmondson, president and CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “This year’s PastForward theme is Lead the Change, and our award recipients truly are doing just that for particular places and for the national preservation movement. It is an honor to present a Richard H. Driehaus Foundation National Preservation Award to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library for the important work achieved in Washington, D.C.” 

The National Preservation Awards are presented annually at the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s PastForward conference. This year, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library is one of three Richard H. Driehaus Foundation National Preservation Award winners. The other honorees are the Moynihan Train Hall in New York City and the Milwaukee Soldiers Home in Wisconsin.

To see the award, click here