Henrieese Roberts
credit: Henrieese Roberts

Joi Mecks asked “Why a new library?

Many buildings need facelifts and rehabs as they age. Our central library is due for a major renovation.

The overhaul will help the 42-year old Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library at 901 G. Street, NW meet the current and future needs of city residents and visitors.

In the library’s Great Hall on on Saturday, February 15, Mecks, the city’s interim chief librarian hosted a program that gave members of the community a chance to hear about three imagined designs for the project.

Our facilitator was Don Edwards who informed us that we had reached a milestone in our journey. We were to hear the three teams ideas, that the selected team ideas were just that – ideas how space could be utilized. Participants weighed in on their favorites. Then, on February 18, the winning team was announced.

Mecanoo and Martinez + Johnson Architecture, a DC-based firm that has extensive experience with historic renovation projects, has been selected.

Francine Houben, who did the presentation for Martinez + Johnson said that a library is the most public building in the city and deserves public space; that libraries need cafés and sandwich shops. She said that people have many ways of studying and books should be celebrated with a self-serve desk as well as a help desk. Houben added that meeting spaces are needed that give respect and that roof gardens are a part of the future. She stretched her hands to indicate that the top floor is a destination, to stimulate vertical flow.

The Dudley Center in Boston represents a project completed by her firm. That project demonstrates that Martinez + Johnson knows how to work with a neighborhood.

The challenge the firm will face in renovating our central library is to bring two strong identities together while rendering a design that is contemporary with a human touch.

The MLK library was designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. It is a 400,000 square foot structure, built of steel, brick and glass. It was the famous architect’s last building, his only public library, and his only building constructed in Washington, D.C. The building was completed in 1972 at a cost of $18 million.

The central Library was named in honor of the American civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The building’s lobby includes a large mural of King by artist Don Miller. The entrance also boasts two hand/finger paintings of King by the District’s children. King’s paintings are precious to us because they help address and contain our rage over slavery and injustice as well as release our bondage.

Houben said her team would like to take a historical monument and produce a healthy building with good ventilation and daylight as well as flexibility.

Houben projected 80 housing units on the top floor. She described a simple, elegant, not-competing-with-other-public-buildings library.

“Imagine a state of the art library,” she said.

“Imagine” a hygiene center for our homeless citizens in our library. Once we become clean we can remain so.

“Imagine” that we will not be laughed at by our Japanese visitors when they come to see their precious gifted Cherry trees in the spring.

“Imagine” that our wonderful Mayor Gray and the library board resolve the bathroom issues of toilet tissue immediately. We need to wash and dry our hands after bathroom use.

“We cannot use the bathroom!” was uttered by a voice in our midst.”

1600 community members gave the library feedback for the project thus far and Joi Mecks was very joyful for your responses. Thank you.