It’s been 3 1/2 years of renovation, but the MLK Library is going to re-open next Thursday, September 24th. It looks like it is going to be worth the wait – the library will add a grand reading room, a fabrication lab, a cafe, an auditorium, and a rooftop terrace.
The library opened as D.C.’s central library in 1972, replacing the former library in the Carnegie Library building. Famed architect Mies van der Rohe designed the modernistic building; it was the only building he designed in D.C., and the last building he designed before his death. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places, so the exterior and many of the key interior details were preserved during the renovation.
We tried (and failed) to get an early viewing before its opening, so we’ve been looking through the windows. One of the obvious updates is how much more open the space looks.
Mies’ signature modernistic lighting and simple clock faces have been retained in the design.
New orange chairs add color to the modern lines:
In addition to the library’s many services for the community, it is a tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. One of the key tributes is this mural which was created in 1986 by Don Miller. The mural is 56 feet long, and it was a very complex task to take it down during the renovation and reinstall it in the new lobby.
There were also large images of King over the check-out desks – we don’t know if these have been incorporated into the new design.
If you ever used the stairways, or went down into the grim basement in the old library, you can see what an improvement these new open stairways will be (even in this photo taken through a frosted window, the stairs look inviting).
On the SE corner of the building, there are projections by Robin Bell (visible but a bit hard to see in the daytime). Bell is planning a series of projections over the next six months on different themes. The first projections are on the March on Washington, showing images from the 1963 march combined with current Black Lives Matter images.
As the sign outside the library says, it has been “re-imagined” to fit the needs of the 21st century community.
We’re very happy to see the construction end and the new library about to be unveiled.
For more views of the new space, here’s a preview video from the library:
In addition to the renovation of the MLK central library, D.C. has renovated many branch libraries in the past few years. The Southwest Branch library is currently undergoing a renovation that will be completed in 2021. It will have an outdoor porch, lots of public meeting spaces, and an innovation lab with 3-D printers.