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D.C. Seeks Architect To Renovate Central Library

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library sits in a four-decade-old historic building in Gallery Place.
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The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library sits in a four-decade-old historic building in Gallery Place.

Some people love it and some people hate it, and now D.C. is starting the long process of renovating the historic Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library.

D.C. officials today put out a request for architects to submit plans for a renovation of the city's central library, which sits inside a four-decade-old Mies van der Rohe-designed building in Gallery Place. According to the request, D.C. is expecting 10 to 15 firms to vie for the challenge of creating a "design for the library of the future" that is centered around multiple uses, including technology.

Library officials have long complained that the four-story building—which was designated a historic site in 2007—is too large and too expensive to maintain. In 2012, a panel exploring the future of the city's central library proposed that the building be renovated, expanded and shared with a second tenant. (That full report is here.) Mayor Vince Gray set aside $103 million over the next five years to begin the process.

Since 2007, outgoing Chief Librarian Ginnie Cooper has overseen $170 million worth of reconstruction or renovation of 17 public libraries throughout D.C. Gray's recent budget put money into three more library projects in Cleveland Park, the Palisades and Woodridge.

While many of those projects have been warmly received, the renovation of the MLK Library faces significant emotional and regulatory hurdles. Opponents of the current plan have warned against the partial privatization of the building, while even D.C. officials concede that the architect that is eventually chosen for the project will have to contend with numerous local and federal regulations governing the alteration of historic buildings.

"The challenge will be to respect the building’s architectural significance while creating an iconic and inspiring central library befitting of the Nation’s Capital," explains the city's Request for Qualifications from firms. "The design of the library must attract and engage residents, encourage learning and provide a center of community activity appropriate to the heart of this great city."

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