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Carnegie Library

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1899–1902, Ackerman and Ross; 2016–2019 renovation, Foster and Partners. Mount Vernon Square (intersection of Massachusetts and New York aves. between 7th and 9th sts. NW).

Built as the Main Public Library of the District of Columbia, the Carnegie Library is serenely situated at the center of Mount Vernon Square amid winding walks. Like hundreds of other Carnegie libraries across the nation, it was a gift from Andrew Carnegie, who made a cash donation for the library with the stipulation that Congress provide a site. The building's design was obtained through competition, won by the New York firm of Ackerman and Ross, which subsequently designed other Carnegie libraries. Philip Martiny designed the sculptural elements. Although the urban context has changed, becoming more dense and commercialized, the Carnegie Library still serves as a reminder of the civic-mindedness of public architecture at the turn of the century. 

The Carnegie Library was one of the earliest public buildings in the District to be designed under the influence of the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition of 1893. Constructed of white Vermont marble over a steel frame, the Carnegie Library was designed in the Beaux-Arts classical style. Its long, rectangular plan is articulated on the south side with a long, elaborate central section and two lower and plainer flanking wings. The central section contains the main entrance and is made up of an arcade formed of Ionic columns. Richly ornamented pedimented end pavilions are at the ends of the sections. A sculptured attic story contains three panels with inscriptions testifying to the Carnegie gift, the building's function, and the purpose of diffusing knowledge. The building's entrance is reinforced by a paved terrace with curved stone seats on either side. The rear of the building, the north side, reveals long, narrow window openings that indicate the location of the library book stacks. On the interior, a fine entrance hall greeted library patrons, while stairways on either side of the entrance led to the second floor and galleries. The wings were devoted to reading rooms.

The building served as the city's central library until 1972, when it was superseded by the Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Library on G Street. For some years the library served as a facility of the University of the District of Columbia and in 1999, it became the headquarters of the Historical Society of Washington, D.C. In 2016, Apple, Inc. received approval to renovate the building and utilize it as the city’s second Apple Store location. The company hired Foster and Partners to reverse a century of modifications to bring the building back to its original grandeur. Apple claims that its renovation of the Carnegie Library exemplifies the company’s public-minded mission and serves as a model for other stories across the world.

References

Johnson, Sarah. "Apple Retail Store, Carnegie Library." Architect, the Journal of the American Institute of Architects, July 28, 2017. https://www.architectmagazine.com/.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee
Updated By: 
Vyta Baselice (2020)
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Data

Timeline

  • 1899

    Built
  • 2016

    Renovated

What's Nearby

Citation

Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee, "Carnegie Library", [Washington, District of Columbia], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/DC-01-DE21.

Print Source

Buildings of the District of Columbia, Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993, 196-197.

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