Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library


After a three-year transformation by Mecanoo, working in collaboration with OTJ Architects, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library (MLKL) has re-opened in Washington D.C.. The library, which opened in 1972, is reborn as a contemporary lifelong-learning hub which reaches out to all communities. It was the only library designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, one of the twentieth century’s greatest architects, and was subsequently named after Dr. King, the towering civil rights leader who was assassinated in 1968.

The transformation of MLKL brings a new, humanistic environment at all levels, designed and programmed for the future, and it adds facilities including a public roof garden, a theater, signature staircases and a suite of community studios and workshops. A central objective of the new design, as Houben explains, is “to highlight the library’s social gathering purpose and its strong presence as a social landmark in the city”. The design approach balances the very different legacies of Mies van der Rohe and Dr King. The 39,600 m2 (426,000 sq ft) rejuvenation project respects the powerful simplicity of the original building. It is an example of Mies van der Rohe’s distinctive rectilinear black glass-and-steel aesthetic, which characterizes his iconic skyscrapers in New York and Chicago. The MLKL’s rectangular form has three glazed floors which float above a first (ground) floor recessed behind a colonnade of black steel columns.