Thursday, December 13, 2007

DC Tries Again with Old Carnegie Library

In advance of an RFP, the Office of Planning sought inspiration from a group of University of Notre Dame School of Architecture students yesterday, in an attempt to transform the Carnegie Library into an integral part of Mt. Vernon Square. During a hefty portion of yesterday afternoon, students presented their design visions for the library both before an architectural review board and the general public. The raw talent of the soon-to-be graduates is being used to wrest new ideas (free of charge) for the ancient and mostly unused building; according to inside sources, this academic brainstorming serves to guide the focus of an RFP that the Office of Planning will soon issue for century-old library.

Carnegie donated an estimated $300,000 to build the Beaux-Arts style library in 1899. It was officially dedicated in 1903 as the Central Public Library - designed as a “closed-stack library,” meaning books and periodicals were stored out of public reach requiring visitors to request their materials from library staff. Slowly, the 60,000 s.f. structure became too cramped to serve the community and was replaced by a more modern Martin Luther King Junior Memorial Library in 1972, leaving the Carnegie vacant for the rest of the decade. Partial renovations were made to the structure in the 1980s to fulfill the needs of the University of the District of Columbia, but in 1999 DC’s Historical Society raised $19m in attempts to convert it into a museum dedicated to the history of our fair city. The City Museum of Washington DC opened in May 2003, but the projections of how many tourists would visit proved overly optimistic - consultants not realizing that tourists were trying to get out of Shaw, not into it - and the building was overtaken by the National Music Center in 2006.

Now, efforts are being made to rejuvenate Carnegie's legacy, although the Office of Planning would not comment on how or for what purpose. Yesterday morning's presentation, largely filled with technical descriptions and design rationale, was made in front of a board of professional judges from Franck Lohsen McCrery Architects Inc. and Grenfell Architecture. The latter presentation went two hours in the office of The Historical Society of Washington DC for District residents where UND students discussed their designs, creative motivations and the economic and preservation needs that their concepts fulfill.

"The students came to this project with no agenda," said Kara Kelly, Director of Communications at the University of Notre Dame School of Architecture. "They can be objective, creative, and are not hindered by any political situation." Graduate students, untainted by the doldrums of innumerable planning, zoning and ANC meetings, are apparently what the District needs to help inject life into DC's greatest symbol of Carnegie's altruism. Apparently, the students also required some time-off from the corn fields and countryside; DC served as a wise curricular choice. "What better Classical architecture can be found than in DC?" Kelly pointed out.


IMGoph on Dec 15, 2007, 5:09:00 PM said...

"consultants not realizing that tourists were trying to get out of Shaw, not into it"

funny man, eh? stick to your day job.

seriously though, it was the fact that you had to pay to get in that killed this. there are too many free museums in this town for a fee-based museum to survive, except for a rare instance like the spy museum...

David on Dec 15, 2007, 5:36:00 PM said...

sadly goph, this is my day job - just trying to entertain myself

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