Just in time for Black History Month, the District's Office of Historic Preservation recently unveiled a detailed roadmap to protecting and preserving every aspect of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial library.
From the Mies-designed Brno and Barcelona furniture, to the silver-leaf signage, to protection of the Detroit Black Graphite exterior paint and the Donald Lloyd Miller King Mural in the Central Lobby, the report spells out what it considers the do's and don'ts for preserving the International Style building. The library was completed in 1972 at a cost of $18 million to replace the Andrew Carnegie Central Library in Mount Vernon Square. It was the only library Mies designed and he did not live to see it completed before his death in 1969. His colleague, John Bowman, supervised much of the construction.
The four-story exposed-steel framed building was designated a historic landmark by the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board in June 2007. And as part of that designation, the D.C. HPRB instructed the D.C. Public Library to come up with a set of guidelines to help preserve its aging flagship.
Not surprisingly, much of the guidelines, drafted by EHT Traceries encourage DCPL to dramatically increase daily maintenance of everything, from the bronze-tinted glass to the beige brick on the exterior. But the key recommendation is to keep the Miesian principles of transparency of the 400,000 square-foot building intact, such as not subdividing the Central Lobby where Miller's King Mural was unveiled in 1986 or the reading rooms into smaller rooms.
"The key is to recapture the openness of the space," said Steve Callcott, deputy preservation officer with the District's Historic Preservation Office, who said the document however was not a roadmap to a full restoration but a way to manage incremental changes to the building now that the District is for the time being committed to keeping the library. "There are a series of challenges but there's nothing that we don't think can be worked out," he said.
The neighborhood around MLK Jr. library has dramatically transformed in the past decade, with the rehabilitation of apartments and art space across the street, to the construction of Class A office space with ground level retail by the likes of Skanska and MRP Realty.
The sprouting of new construction is in stark contrast to the state of the MLK Jr. Library which has endured decades of deferred maintenance and neglect and a reputation as a hangout for downtown D.C. homeless.
While talk continues of a new main library in D.C., and there was some hope that CityCenterDC would include one, it appears that with the new guidelines the aging but iconic MLK Jr. Memorial Library, for better or for worse, will be part of downtown D.C. for some time.
Washington D.C. real estate redevelopment news.