APPLE CARNEGIE LIBRARY
Nigel Young / Foster + Partners

Apple Carnegie Library breathes new life into a much-loved city icon

Foster + Partners como Arquitectos

The opening of Apple Carnegie Library in the heart of Washington DC marks the revitalisation of an important monument in the city’s history. As the city’s first public library, and its first desegregated public building, the Carnegie Library of Washington DC played a central role in community life for over 70 years since its opening in 1903. After a period of neglect, Apple Carnegie Library continues the traditions of the building by creating a new platform for learning, performance and art for a new generation. Foster + Partners worked in close collaboration with the design team at Apple led by chief design officer, Sir Jonathan Ive to give this cultural icon a new lease of life.


“I love the synergy between old and new, the juxtaposition of the historic fabric and contemporary design. It is the layers of history which create the rich tapestry of urban life. In its ‘new’ phase of life, Apple Carnegie Library will be a way for us to share our ideas and excitement about the products we create, while giving people a sense of community and encouraging and nurturing creativity,” said Sir Jonathan Ive. The listed Beaux-Arts style building has been restored to its previous grandeur, with entrances on both sides of the north-south axis, creating an inviting urban route through the building. The southern entrance, which was the original entrance to the library, is fronted by a grand plaza that will host public concerts and events. The heart of the building has been transformed into a soaring double-height space, capped by a new skylight that brings natural light deep into the interior spaces. Here, the Forum forms the vibrant, creative hub of the building, where experts from various fields will entertain and inspire the local people. The audience can view the performances and workshops from two levels, creating a lively and interactive experience. Stefan Behling, Head of Studio, Foster + Partners commented: “We felt a great sense of responsibility in giving this much-loved monument a new life. Public libraries like this one have been the heart and soul of communities for decades, and we are proud to be able to carry forward that same spirit of learning and creativity into Apple Carnegie Library. The materiality and detailing of the historic façades and interior spaces have been carefully preserved, working closely with the National Trust for Historic Preservation and other conservation experts.”


The entire palette of materials used in the interior was chosen to suit the historic surroundings, inspired by the distinctive early 20th century detailing in the building. The project is driven by a very sustainable agenda, which included upgrading the historic building by reintroducing natural ventilation and the generous use of daylight, as well as a commitment to locally sourced materials.

A grand staircase leads to the DC History Center on the second floor and the Carnegie Gallery in the basement, which displays historic photographs and documents for the public to learn about the origins and history of the building. Apple Carnegie Library also reinvigorates the surrounding park, while enhancing the northern entrance to create a clear route through the building that strengthens the connections between the northern and southern ends of the site.

A holistic transformation of a historic Washington, DC landmark offers a contemporary interpretation of the original design intent and allows the building to retain its original purpose of easing access to knowledge and information.

Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners como Arquitectos

The Carnegie Library on Mount Vernon Square, one of the city’s most stunning buildings and expressions of civic pride, opened in 1903 as a gift from American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. The visionary project included a complete restoration of the exterior Vermont Marble and Milford Granite facade, restoration of the historic windows, restoration of the historic light well in the central atrium, the restoration of the historic reading rooms, including ceiling, window and pilasters, and return of historic detailing, restoration of the grand staircase, and restoration of the basement Guastavino ceiling.

The preservation strategy relied on identifying hidden chases, shafts, and vertical pathways to invisibly add new building systems and lighting, carefully integrating contemporary features into the historic building fabric. BBB coordinated and documented the removal of loadbearing masonry walls and non-original floor slabs to transform the cloistered library space into an open and engaging space, welcoming visitors to experience the next century of learning. The weathered condition of the architectural details was respected and left intact, however deteriorated sculptural elements on the main façade were consolidated and minimally restored using Dutchman and mortar patching repairs where appropriate. The original wood windows were restored and retrofitted with new energy efficient glazing.

A newly imagined entry staircase on the north facade provides a welcoming portal to the convention center and Shaw District beyond. The project also included new site walkways and south plaza, making the building accessible on the south facade for the first time, new landscaping, incorporating of bioretention beds, and new facade lighting.

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