Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Historic MLK Library Gets a Preservation Owners Manual



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.

12 comments:

Colin said...

That's unfortunate, as the library is terrible. The fact that a well known architect designed it should be irrelevant -- the library should be able to stand on its own merits. It's drab and boring.

Anonymous said...

i love this building

Anonymous said...

This report does nothing to address the most disruptive and damaging factors that keep citizens from using the building as a library, namely the repulsive smell from pools of urine and feces deposited by the vagrants that loiter near the entrance. Until the city desists in encouraging the use of MLK Library as a day-shelter for vagrants (the city actually buses vagrants there) and warehouse of last resort for mentally ill, it remains best not to waste additional money on this building. Only when this problem is resolved, would the building be worthwhile to save as a library. While the MLK Library is attractive architecturally, it should be made self-sustaining by adding leased office space in the anticipated-but-unbuilt upper floors.

Anonymous said...

I agree, the building needs 6 or 7 more floors (maybe more but this is DC afterall) to fulfill it's potential.

Ed said...

The building is a box. Love it if you want, but there is nothing of merit in its design to warrant saving it.

Anonymous said...

This building is certainly is a piece of junk, but it shows how political the architectural world is that most architects want it preserved while most lay people (and librarians) want to see it razed. Herr Ludwig Meis Van Der Rohe is one of the high priests of the International style, responsible for the destruction of many a great cities character and form. He and his bretherin would design the same glass box and stuff an office, apartment, courthouse, museum or Library in it. It could be built in the tropics or the northern hemisphere, that didn't seem to matter either. Yet Meis is famous for saying "form follows function".

I think it's worth preserving if only as a monument of a time in our architectural culture when we consiously seemed to hate our cities and activley tried to eliminate whatever characteristics made them unique. Every American city has a downtown filled with these de-humanizing boxes where once a rich fabric of architecture stood. Unfortunately, many architects are still under the 80 year old spell of modernism, but one assumes we will finally look at this period of architecture objectively, as the dark ages of cities.

Anonymous said...

They should have integrated the MLK library into new City Center development http://www.citycenterdc.com/ on the old convention center site and redeveloped this building.

Bob See on Feb 1, 2012, 10:49:00 AM said...

Yeah, tear it down because "I don't like it". Glass boxes ain't never built these days, huh? That's a thing of the past.

Anonymous said...

Please don't tear it down, I love it! Even though developers love this style becasue it's cheap, cheap, cheap, it's still cool.

Anonymous said...

This is an important building in the city and should be saved and restored. I think part of the issue and the reason that some people dislike it is that it has not been well-maintained. A cleaned-up Mies building could shine in that location and I always felt its squat stature was a nice break in the monontonous 13-story fabric of downtown. It may not be the best historic building in DC, but its worth saving and would certainly be better than whatever generica would likely replace it.

Anonymous said...

My guess is if you didn't know the building's history, it would have been torn down years ago.

Anonymous said...

Many buildings still stand only because of their history. Although I personally do not like this building, it should be preserved, just like the FBI and HUD and a good number of other “monstrosities”. It is our history. It would help the MLK library a lot if the site was clean but this city is run by a succession of thugs and looters who have no interest in preserving civilization.

 

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