Folger Introduces Concept for Improvements, Interior Expansion

Construction Expected to Begin Early 2020

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Site plan showing the changes to the grounds of the Folger Library. The turnaround driveway will be eliminated to the east, and the fencing removed around the garden to the west. Image: Kieran-Timberlake/Folger.

The Folger will undertake interior and exterior renovations to the building and grounds early in 2020, the team told the March meeting of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6B.

The goal of the improvements is to improve accessibility for all to the grounds, buildings and collections at the Folger Shakespeare Library (201 East Capitol St. SE). The fundamental idea, said the team that presented the concepts, is to open up the Folger both literally and figuratively, facilitating enjoyment of the grounds, building, events, resources and collections offered on the historic site.

The work will include renovations and expansion to the interior of the library with significant work in the public space. The design concept was presented to ANC 6B as part of their Public Space Application, which as of the meeting had not yet been filed.

The Folger was opened in 1932 as a gift to the American people to house the world’s largest collection of Shakespeare materials, held by Henry and Emily Folger. The Folger has expanded its holdings to become a world-class research and resource center for Shakespeare studies with public outreach and education programs as well as productions by the Folger Theater, concerts by the Folger Consort, and the publication of the Folger Shakespeare Library editions, as well as myriad online resources.

The concept design presented expands the interior rooms into below grade public space to include two new exhibition spaces that will both be open to the public.

Interior expansion showing new permanent exhibition spaces with gift shop and washroom facilities and two elevators. The interior improvements allow for a fully accessible east-west route through the building. Image: Kieran-Timberlake for Folger.

Return to Original Vision

On the exterior, the building’s main entrances will be relocated to newly created East and West Public Gardens. The plinth, the elevated platform along East Capitol Street, will be made accessible so that visitors can see the nine famous bas reliefs along the façade.

All of the entrances will be made fully accessible, as well the interior space and the exterior plinth, which will be graded to allow access at the front of the building. Currently the main entrances are accessible by temporary ramps, but these are not graded to support electric wheelchairs. Stairs in the interior also inhibit accessibility to exhibits.

“The idea is that the whole perimeter of the building can return to its original vision, which is an open garden with the building sitting the middle of it,” said Stephen Kieran of Kieran-Timberlake, the architecture firm engaged for the project.

Programming to Continue While Building Closed

The project is expected to begin in early 2020. Completion is anticipated in mid-2022, with the re-opening of the building contingent upon the preparation of the building once construction is complete.

Historical Preservation Specialist Emily Eig emphasized that the interior of the Folger Shakespeare Library has recently been designated a National Historic Landmark, in addition to the exterior façade. In addition to being a National Landmark located in the Capitol Hill Historic Preservation District, the Folger is also located in the Shipstead-Luce Area. Alterations to the building must therefore go before both the by the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) and the Commission of Fine Arts (CFA) before permits can be approved. The Public Space Application will be heard by the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) in April, followed by May appearances before CFA and then HPRB the following week.

Letters about the project have been distributed to neighbors in the community, and the Folger will engage in a series of community meetings to exchange information and feedback about the project.

Learn more about the Folger Shakespeare Library by visiting Folger.edu.