The DC Public Library today issued an RFQ (request for qualifications) for an architect to renovate DC’s central library, MLK Memorial at 901 G Street NW. The sudden issuance is a surprise. It was not mentioned at last night’s monthly meeting of the MLK Friends. In addition, DCPL was charged with presenting a report to the DC Council Library Committee by this October, outlining “the project’s community and stakeholder engagement plan to identify the needs and perspectives of District residents” per the 2013 Budget Support Act. It is not clear how architects could reasonably respond to the RFQ when the public has not yet been consulted about its preferences for the building’s future use, including potential private partnerships, public partnerships or other co-locations, as well as the types of activities it would like to see.
As part of the Budget Support Act deliberations this spring and summer, our Project had asked that public consultation about the future of the central library be prioritized as the first matter of business by DCPL before any other planning including, partnerships, financing and design. We predicted that DCPL would move ahead without public consent if not reigned in, and so they are.
Background The central library was designed by iconic modernist architect Mies van der Rohe and opened to the public in 1972. The facility fell into disrepair along with the District’s branch libraries during the long years of governmental “deferred maintenance.” So much so, that over the years various officials were accused of practicing “demolition by neglect.” In 1999, then-members of the Board of Library Trustees worked with the Urban Design Committee of the American Institute of Architects, led by local architect Kent Cooper, to examine issues identified by the staff and library-going public and devise solutions. The AIA recommendations went unacted upon until 2005, when Mayor Anthony Williams put into a Budget Support Act mayoral authority to sell the building. Public opposition, led by a coalition of preservationists, library advocates, and our Project — armed with the AIA recommendations — derailed the vague plan in favor of a focus on rebuilding neighborhood branches. Since that time 17 new and renovated libraries have been added or transformed.
Since 2006, our Project has been calling for a Citizens Task Force on the Future of MLK. In 2008 and again in 2013, the Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission (2B) passed resolutions in favor of a citizen task force. In 2008, DCPL informed ANC2B its resolution was premature. The March 2013 resolution has not yet received a response.