An open international contest has been launched for a new $10 million Martin Luther King (MLK) Library in Cleveland, Ohio, USA (Deadline: 27 November)
Open to local and international teams of architects and engineers, the three-stage competition seeks ‘iconic yet welcoming’ proposals for a new 1,850m² MLK branch library on Euclid Avenue between East 105th Street and Stokes Boulevard within the city’s prestigious ‘University Circle’ quarter.
The project, planned to start on site in 2019, will provide a replacement for the city’s existing 1,690m² Ward & Schneider-designed MLK library which opened at neighbouring 1962 Stokes Blvd in 1970 and is due to be demolished to make way for a new $300 million mixed-use development.
According to the brief: ‘Located along the western boundary of the University Circle neighbourhood, this new MLK Branch will replace an older, outdated building, better serving the community by its location on a major transit route and by providing flexible space that meets the needs of nearby residents.
‘The new MLK Branch will become an integral part of a large, residential and commercial mixed-use project at the confluence of four distinct neighbourhoods and districts: the Hough and Fairfax neighbourhoods, the University Circle educational and cultural district, and the vast Cleveland Clinic hospital campus. This offers the Library a unique opportunity to create a library design that sets the tone for the larger development project that will serve as a gateway amongst these distinct neighbourhoods.’
Overlooking Lake Eerie, Cleveland is home to almost 400,000 people, with 53 per cent identifying as either black or African American. Martin Luther King frequently visited the city during the height of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, encouraging voter registration and supporting local mayor Carl Stokes.
The most famous Martin Luther King library was designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in Washington DC in 1972 and is currently being upgraded by Mecanoo. There are however several other libraries named after the civil rights activist across the country, including the one in Cleveland.
The city’s existing MLK branch opened in 1970 as a venue to promote learning and inspiration among residents of the largely African-American neighbourhoods of Hough, Fairfax and Glenville. The building hosts a large number of African-American books including history, biography, anthologies, literature, sociology and reference material.
The planned new facility is part of a $300 million mixed-use development which will deliver 425 new homes, 9,300m² of commercial space and 1,025 parking spaces in the area.
MOCA Cleveland by Farshid Moussavi
Source: Image by Erik Drost
It will occupy the site of an existing auto repair shop and parking lot on the north side of Euclid Avenue. Once the new flexible two-storey library opens, the existing library around the corner will be demolished to make way for another phase of the mixed-use regeneration. Residential buildings are also expected to be constructed above the new library.
The project – supported by the Cleveland Public Library and Cleveland Foundation – will provide enhanced facilities and public spaces for local residents and a new venue for the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award Collection. Other aims supporting the quality of architecture in the wider University Circle area, raising the profile of the library, honouring Martin Luther King’s memory, and increasing visitor numbers.
Nearby architectural landmarks include the Cleveland Museum of Art East Wing by Rafael Viñoly Associates, Farshid Moussavi’s MOCA Cleveland and the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University by Frank Gehry.
Eight semi-finalists will be invited for interview following an initial request for qualifications round. Three finalists will then receive $20,000 each to develop concept designs and present in front of the jury. An overall winner will be announced on 18 May with construction contracts expected to be signed in June.
How to apply
The deadline for submissions is 5pm local time (EST) on 27 November
Cleveland Public Library
325 Superior Avenue
Tel: +1 (216) 623-2800
Visit the competition website for more information
Q&A with Felton Thomas
The executive director of Cleveland Public Library discusses his ambitions for the contest
Why are you holding a competition for a new Martin Luther King Branch Library in Cleveland?
Our original Martin Luther King, Jr Branch was constructed in 1970 as a flagship branch of Cleveland Public Library, and it’s important that the new facility continues to honour Dr King and represent the best of our organisation. The new building will be located prominently within University Circle, a thriving Cleveland community in the proximity of numerous medical, educational, and cultural institutions. This competition will broaden our pool of potential architects and attract talented professionals who might not otherwise be aware of this project and why it matters. Ideally, the competition will produce design concepts that reach the level of innovation and imagination that we believe the community deserves.
What is your vision for the new library?
The identity of this branch is rooted in the legacy of Dr King, and the new facility should be no different—it should stand as a symbol of its namesake’s devotion to equality. Along those lines, my hope is the building will speak to openness in our community by serving the immediate and surrounding neighbourhoods as well as the many thousands of employees and students who work or study in this area every day. Most of all, we strive for this branch library to facilitate our greater mission of serving a diverse and inclusive community by being accessible and welcoming to all.
The poroposed development
What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?
We hope to see architects who demonstrate innovation and creative thinking. Of course, there are many accomplished architects who specialise in the library space, but we’re also excited to see ideas from those who can bring a new or different thought process to designing a library.
Which other design opportunities are on the horizon and how will the architects/designers be procured?
While we don’t anticipate hosting another design competition in the near future, this process is certainly leading us to rethink our next 150 years of service to the Cleveland community. We’re also considering not only what our libraries of the future will look like, but how we’ll discover the architects who will work on those buildings.
Are there any other new library projects you have been impressed by?
I’m impressed by Chicago Public Library’s Chinatown Branch and the Richland Public Library in Columbia, South Carolina. These libraries were able to work with buildings under 20,000 square feet [1,800m²] and yet find a way to make their designs seem very open—that’s a goal of ours, as well. Considering that the Martin Luther King Jr branch honours the work, life, and legacy of Dr King, its design should signal that this is a premier learning space that embraces diversity, openness, accessibility, and inclusion. We’re excited to see what designs will emerge.
Albion Library case study: Q&A with Andrew Frontini
The design director at Perkins+Will Toronto discusses lessons learned designing a new library for the Canadian city
How did your project deliver a landmark new library facility for Toronto?
The design for the Albion Library grew out of extensive community consultation. We engaged, we listened and developed a concept that spoke to their needs and aspirations. We actually started out with a renovation and addition to the existing building which would have involved a lengthy closure. The community was up in arms at the thought so we restrategised and came up with a design that could be squeezed into the adjacent parking lot, allowing continuous service during construction. Library users strongly expressed the vital role that the library played in their lives – a safe neutral space and a respite from the immediate urban context. This translated into the main inspiration for the driving concept – Library as a Garden offering spaces that evoke nature, beauty and celebration.
Albion Library, Toronto by Perkins+Will
Which architectural, material, visual and other methods did you harness in your design?
We carried the central metaphor of a Garden Oasis through every aspect of the design. A colourful scrim of terracotta extrusions wraps the building while courtyard gardens punctuate the interior bringing natural light and colour deep inside. A folding timber roof modulates the volumes sloping up to creating high feature spaces and sloping down to drain into the courtyards. Within the library, there is a sense of connectedness that comes from the visual layering of many potential experiences. The exterior is joyful with its bright colours and bold gestural form that literally invites the community in.
What advice would you have to contest participants on designing a new Martin Luther King branch library in Cleveland?
Find an architectural voice that captures the spirit of the community and the story of the place (which is very rich) and then don’t be afraid to belt it out. The library is a small part of a big development and will need to carve a unique identity and sense of place within that context. Your design will have to be memorable and inspire a sense of ownership and pride.
Albion Library, Toronto by Perkins+Will