Re-imagine a New Central Library

Re-imagine a New Central Library

The Future of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, at 901 G St. NW, will have a major modernization to meet the needs of D.C. residents. The building, designed by modernist architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, was designated an historic landmark in 2007. 

The DC Public Library is exploring what's possible for this historic building, and how to make it a spectacular central library.

Dr. King in D.C. -- A Community Conversation

If Dr. King were alive today, what would his hopes and aspirations for this project be? What unique role do public libraries have in carrying out his legacy?
On Wednesday, November 4, 2015, the Library hosted a panel discussion and community conversation at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library to discuss ideas for honoring Dr. King's legacy in the modernized library.

View video of the full event along with quotes and feedback, and add your thoughts at Ideascale.

Most Recent Design Concepts


Regulatory Review Meetings

There are three regulatory agencies that will review the designs for the modernization of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library. The lead agency is the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) because the building is historically designated and it sits within the central area of the nation's capital.

NCPC hosted a Section 106 consultation meeting for the proposed modernization of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library on Tuesday, July 14, 2015. View the presentation from this meeting.
The purpose of this Section 106 consultation meeting was to: 

  • provide an update on the review processes and Historic Structure Report underway on the building
  • present the action alternatives, including the preferred alternative identified by the Library
  • discuss impacts to historic properties to apply the criteria of adverse effect as required under the Section 106 regulations. 
If you have questions regarding the meeting please contact Jennifer Hirsch at

The Commission of Fine Arts (CFA) is a federal agency that gives advice to the federal and D.C. governments on matters of design and aesthetics as they affect the federal interest and preserve the dignity of the nation’s capital. CFA reviewed the proposed plans at a meeting on Thursday, July 16, and the Commission expressed strong support for the general approach of the project. View the presentation below.

The Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) is a D.C. government agency that provides guidance to the government and public on preservation matters in the District of Columbia. HPRB reviewed the concept design for the Library project at a public meeting on Thursday, July 23. View the presentation below.

View preliminary renderings of the MLK modernization.

The Library has selected the team of Martinez + Johnson Architecture and Mecanoo to design the modernization.

Board Backs Five-Story Stand-Alone Library

On Wednesday, Jan. 28, the DC Public Library Board of Trustees adopted a resolution supporting the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library modernization design approach as a stand-alone library with a fifth-floor addition.   
The board recommended the fifth-floor addition approach instead of the three-story, mixed-use addition after considering the requirements for a modern library, factoring in community feedback and reviewing the cost-benefit analysis of adding three new floors.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library Modernization Cost-Benefit Analysis is made up of three documents:

Modernizing the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library with a fifth-floor addition would accommodate the library’s building program with the option of including mixed-use, like a café and restaurant as well as space for non-profit and government partners.

Library Building Program

Through community input, conversations with staff, review of other central libraries around the world and consulations with the architect team, the Library has developed a draft Library Building Program. This document will continue to evolve as the design process moves forward. 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 building’s 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 checkout 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 be closed and library services will be provided at an interim location.

Project Cost

The total cost for the project has not been determined. Early estimates for the total cost range from $200 million to $225 million. The Mayor and City Council have committed approximately $200 million in the capital budget.

What We're Hearing

The Library began seeking ideas about what residents would like to see a modernized central library in the fall of 2013. This process continues as the design process moves forward.

In September, 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 Renovation Advisory Panel. More than 60 people attended the meetings held at William O. Lockridge/Bellevue Library, Francis A. Gregory Library and in the West End (at St. Paul's Parish).

Browse comments and questions from neighborhood meetings here. 

The Library will hold additional neighborhood meetings throughout the District as the planning continues. Check back for more details or sign up to receive email alerts.

Please share your thoughts and comments here.

Image from Round Table Discussion Richard Reyes-Gavilian talks with Customers Architect talks with Customers
Residents share their ideas with the architect and library staff at the Library's Design Round Table in April 2014.

The Library wants to hear from you about what services, spaces and technology you want to see in the modernized library. Share your ideas and view other ideas in the MLK Jr. Library Idea Community. Anyone can view public comments, but you must register to post comments.

Get up-to-date information about the status of the project and leave your comments on the MLK Library Blog. Sign up to receive email updates on the MLK Jr. Library project.

Focus Groups
The Library is conducting 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. To date, we have hosted 16 focus groups. 

Here's some of what we've heard so far: If you are interested in being considered for participation in a focus group, please send an email to

Architect Selection Process

The Library has selected the team of Martinez + Johnson Architecture and Mecanoo to design the modernization of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library.

Martinez + Johnson is a D.C.-based 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 three-phase architect selection process began in August when the Library issued a request for qualifications (RFQ) to identify interested firms with experience working on similar projects.  An expert panel reviewed submissions from 26 firms that responded to the RFQ by the Sept. 23 deadline.

On Oct. 18, 2013, ten firms were selected from the original 26 to move to the second round in the search for an architecture team.  The 10 firms were invited to respond to a request for technical proposal to determine how each firm would approach designing the library.  Proposals were due Nov. 20, 2013.  Firms were not asked to submit design concepts during this round. Instead, proposals were judged by a team of library, urban planning, architecture and preservation experts that evaluated the firms based on the following:
  • Senior personnel assigned to the project, and their experience designing and completing major libraries and obtaining appropriate approvals from D.C. and federal review agencies;
  • Approach to managing the project, developing the project budget, managing the costs and schedule while ensuring the final design meets budget requirements, and addressing key challenges that are inherent in the project; and
  • Ability to meet or exceed the District’s Certified Business Enterprise participation rate of 35 percent.
On Dec. 23, 2013 the Library announced three finalist architecture teams. These three teams submitted design ideas. An eight-member Technical Evaluation Committee evaluated the three finalists with input from an Advisory Panel, as well as input from the community. The Advisory Panel represents the perspectives of important stakeholders from around the city. Each Advisory Panel member brings a specific expertise that is relevant to the modernization process.

The teams presented their design ideas to the public, the Technical Evaluation Committee and the Advisory Panel at a Library Design Forum on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014. Images from all the architects' proposals were available for public viewing at MLK Jr. Memorial Library and all neighborhood libraries. The final team was announced on Tuesday, Feb. 18.

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In 2011, DC Public Library engaged the Urban Land Institute (ULI) to assess the condition and suitability of the historic building as a modern library, and to advise on options for renovation.  ULI gathered a team of nationally-recognized experts in architecture, urban planning, development and libraries. After interviews with more than 70 individuals, including various stakeholders, tours of the building and nearby area, and conversations with library and District agency staff, the ULI issued its findings in a report that outlined the following options:
  • Renovate the building for sole use by the library.
  • Renovate and add two or more floors to the building, sharing occupancy with other tenants, and using the revenue from the additional space to help fund the renovation of the library.
ULI presented its findings at a community meeting attended by more than 200 people in November 2011.
First Floor Reading Room Circa 1972 Lobby Circa 1972
Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in 1972

In September 2012, with funding from Mayor Gray, the library engaged The Freelon Group, the Martin Luther King Jr. Library architect-of-record at the time, and other consultants, to test the options identified in the ULI report and present their findings to the library board and community. Their work and the conceptual images support the following conclusions:
  • It is possible to make the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library a knock-your-socks-off library for the 21st century at the current site, if extensive and expensive improvements are made.
  • The existing structural support system of the building makes it possible to add two floors to the building to accommodate other uses, without additional support.
Exterior Rendering Rendering of Great Hall Rendering of Children's Area
Renderings from the Preliminary Conceptual Planning Study by The Freelon Group

At their November 2012 meeting, the library board passed a resolution stating that the central library will remain in its current location, 901 G St. NW, and reaffirmed that it will continue to be called the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library. It also requested the staff to proceed with examining options for additional investment to make it into a state-of-the-art central library.

The DC Public Library submitted the FY2014 Budget Support Act Report on Sept. 27, 2013, to the City Council. It detailed progress for the major renovation of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library.