Branding  /  Exhibit Design

MLK Memorial Library Exhibition Design


A renovation and a revolution.

The exhibition connects Dr. King’s local activism with the broader activist landscape integral to the city’s deep history of revolution, culture, and change.

In early 2019, Workhorse began designing the permanent exhibition for the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, Washington D.C.’s central library.
The permanent exhibition Up from the People: Protest and Change in DC is part of a decades-long renovation completed in 2020 by Mecanoo and OTJ Architects.

Archival images courtesy the DC Public Library Archives.

Up from People: Protest & Change in DC

A permanent exhibition at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library.

The exhibition we designed seeks to reflect the stories of the individuals who were instrumental in shaping not just the modern architecture of the library but also the culture and identity of modern Washington, DC.

Architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

'Mies' was the last director of the Bauhaus and one of the century’s most influential architects. The Bauhaus redefined design and art education and gave birth to the modernist movement that still prevails today.
After leaving Germany during the years leading up to World War II, Mies eventually settled in Chicago, where he continued to work until he died in 1969, forever leaving his mark on the American landscape as one of the fathers of modern architecture.
President Lyndon Johnson presented Mies with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963.
The MLK Library is the only public library ever designed by Mies.

Less than a decade after 1963's "I Have a Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln monument, the DCPL board voted to name the city's central library after the civil rights icon.​

Martin Luther King Jr. in DC

Dr. King had long-established ties with local clergy, activists, and students, specifically those fighting to create autonomy for the district. These people included a young pastor named Walter Fauntroy, who became the first representative in congress for the District of Columbia. Also, the young chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and later Mayor for Life, Marion Barry.​
By Tré Seals, Vocaltype

MARTIN is a non-violent typeface inspired by remnants of the Memphis Sanitation Strike of 1968. Memphis sanitation workers, the majority of them Black, went out on strike on February 12, 1968, demanding recognition for their union, better wages, and safer working conditions after two trash handlers were killed by a malfunctioning garbage truck.

Christian Schwartz, FontFont, 2002​​

FF Bau is a large workhorse family of sans serif typefaces drawn in the “Grotesk” genre. Christian Schwartz is its designer, working under the inspiration of Grotesk types cast by the Schelter & Giesecke foundry in Leipzig. Schelter & Giesecke sold these popular Grotesks for many decades; they were first introduced around 1880. When the Bauhaus moved nearby in Dessau in the mid-1920s, these faces were chosen as the main selection in their printing shop, and the vast majority of their classic experiments in asymmetrical typography featured them prominently.

Designing for our city

The exhibition also showcases the library’s in-depth public resources, such as The People’s Archive, the library’s special collections which collects and shares D.C. historic documents and stories of dating back over 60 years.
Working as the exhibition brand and visual design partner agency, Workhorse helped the library curate activist and cultural narratives using stories, artifacts, and ephemera from the library’s expansive special collections.

Artifacts and ephemera

Workhorse worked with library staff to curate photography, news clippings, rally fliers, and letters that properly tell the story of the ties that bind Martin Luther King, DC, and the fight for justice.
Photo by Yash Mori

2020: A Pandemic and Political Upheaval

We are always ready for surprises through every project, but nothing could adequately prepare us for 2020. The project was halfway completed when the country shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Research and interviews by our partner agencies had to be taken online as our teams plunged headfirst into the remote work revolution. The summer brought further challenges as Washington became ground zero for political upheaval in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. With our greater understanding of D.C.'s history, we saw how current social movements and uprisings echo past events.
Black Lives Matter Protest - Washington, DC Photo by Yash Mori
BLM at Monroe Park, 2020, David Geitgey Sierralupe
March for Voting Rights, 1964