Must visit in Washington: the new Martin Luther King library

Alterations to listed buildings are always controversial, except when things are done very well, as in the case of the Martin Luther Library in Washington.

Alterations to listed buildings are always controversial, except when things are done very well, as in the case of the Martin Luther Library in Washington.

When we talk about historic buildings, we don’t necessarily have to imagine constructions that have stood for centuries. Au contrarie, what would the classic say. They can be buildings that, due to their constructive singularity, their special location, the motivation that prompted their creation or, simply, because of who designed it, acquire historical relevance in their relatively short life.

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Five minutes from the White House, the Martin Luther King Library

The renovation of the Martin Luther King Library

This is the case that concerns us today, a building located in the capital of the United States, Washington, and which is five minutes from the White House and the Capitol. Its construction was carried out in 1972, under the tutelage of the consecrated architect Mies van der Rohe. This was his last building built of his, the only one he did in Washington and the only library he designed.

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The building is from 1972 and in 2017 its comprehensive reform began

To all this we must add that it was one of the first modernist buildings of the time in the capital, created with a steel structure, brick walls and lots of glass, and which received the title of another great American figure: Martin Luther King Jr.

In 2017 it stopped its activity to remodel its facilities, and at the end of 2021 it opened its doors to the public. Now it boasts the same spirit of the past, but with all the requirements of the present and an exciting future.

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The person in charge of the project was the architect Francine MJ Houben

The original building dates from 1972

The building featured the extraordinary designer of the largest library in Europe and which is located in the United Kingdom. We are talking about Francine MJ Houben, who runs the Mecanoo studio.

He knows well how to build and design this type of property. In this case, she did it accompanied by two American-based teams: OTJ Architects and Martinez + Johnson Architecture.

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The remodeling has had a cost of 185 million euros

The building has a size of 39,600 square meters, its reform was conceived in 2014, it is located at 901 G Street Northwest, the cost of the original was 18 million dollars, 15.77 euros, and the modernization 211 million, 185 euros.

It has four floors, one below ground level and three above street level. A fifth floor has been added to these, yes, set back from the original facades.

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One of the main novelties is that an extra fifth floor has been added

In the renovation a new plant has been added

But spending 4,670 euros for each square meter in the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, what benefits does it bring? Well, many. For example, having a spectacular new entrance, modern, with a huge lobby and better acoustic conditioning.

In addition to having a connection with the outside through huge crystals. Outside, the black metal façade gives way to the lobby with the same natural granite paving.

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Spectacular curved staircases and wood finishes connect the five floors of the library

The five floors of the building are connected thanks to two stairs with organic shapes, wide to allow the comfortable passage of several people, and with soft curves, flanked by elegant metal and wood railings, on terrazzo steps.

Natural light streams up the stairwells through three circular skylights. Thanks to these stairs we discover the other reasons why modernization is a success.

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The Martin Luther King Library has a new, more spacious and visual entrance

A cafeteria and a children’s area have been added

The second floor, where a colorful children’s library is located, is divided into three «age zones», which will delight the youngest, thanks to a wooden slide that runs along the same route as the stairs. Another new space is a cafeteria on the ground floor, next to the lobby.

A cafeteria for which a hole has been opened in the brick wall to communicate with the outside, creating a terrace that connects with the city.

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Green spaces have also gained prominence in the reform

The reform has thought of everything, making available to the general public spaces for adolescents, digital commons, a conference center, archives of special collections, laboratories for music production and art creation, even another cafeteria on the fourth floor. Although there are three elements that by themselves stand out from the rest.

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The children’s area has been renovated and added spaces such as an auditorium with capacity for 291 people

The Martin Luther King Library now has a spectacular auditorium

The double-height reading room is one of these three elements. It is located on the third floor, and after removing the upper floor, it is connected to the fourth floor. All a success.

In addition, the spectacular ceiling design, the work of artist Xenobia Bailey, popular for her use of traditional African aesthetics in her designs, is mesmerizing.

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In total, the library has four renovated floors and a fifth set back that has now been added

The second offending element that modifies the original building is a large auditorium. This has a capacity for 291 people, is installed on the fourth floor and goes up to the fifth, the new floor executed.

This space provides the property and the city with a new place for large gatherings, a cozy place with wood-paneled walls, curved corners that do not harm the view, and seats on a tier that are reached by two stairs, with LED lights. ´s on its steps.

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The fifth and last floor has been used to create a trapezoidal pavilion where you can enjoy reading

An oasis for reading

Finally, the third element that arouses interest is the fifth floor. A plant executed on top of the original building, but set back, in such a way that it does not offer visual disruption with the old building.

Thus, the trapezoidal glazed pavilion has a cantilevered roof, ideal for sitting under it on rainy days, waiting for the entrance to the auditorium, or simply enjoying the show.

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A wooden slide connects the children’s area with other floors of the library

And the spectacle is undoubtedly the roof garden. Drawn in the form of paths, so that users can configure their own walks between angular planters, we find a literary oasis, complemented by the green roof of the fifth floor. Without a doubt, the greenest space for the heart of Washington. The intervention is a complete success, and the modernization of protected buildings will always be necessary.

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