Folger Shakespeare Library reopens after four-year renovation

The Folger’s 1932 building, designed by architect Paul Cret, has finished the four-year renovation project. The major renovation expanded public spaces, improved accessibility, and enhanced the experience for all who come to the Folger.

WASHINGTON — The Folger Shakespeare Library, which houses the world's largest Shakespeare collection, reopened in June following a four-year renovation. The transformation of the library now evokes the atmosphere of an English Renaissance inn. This renovation aims to create a building that is radically more accessible and welcoming, connecting with 21st-century audiences.

The private ribbon-cutting ceremony included numerous VIPs, such as Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser; Librarian of Congress Dr. Carla Hayden; poet Kyle Dargan; Folger Director Dr. Michael Witmore; Board Chair D. Jarrett Arp; and other members of the Folger's Board of Directors. Dr. Witmore read a special congratulatory message from King Charles III. 

The ribbon was cut by Dr. Witmore, Mr. Arp, and board members Florence Cohen, Eugene Pickard Jr., and Susan Sachs Goldman, with the longest-serving staff member, Rosalind Larry, and the newest staff member, India Moore, holding the ceremonial ribbon.

The Folger now welcomes visitors of all ages and offers numerous opportunities to engage directly with its world-class collection and the works of William Shakespeare. All 82 copies of the Folger's First Folios—the first published collection of all Shakespeare's plays—will be displayed together for the first time. This collection is the largest in the world, preserving 18 of Shakespeare's plays, including Macbeth and Julius Caesar, which might have otherwise been lost forever.

"Our reimagined space allows us to bring out the wonders from our archives and provides a blueprint for visitors to engage with Shakespeare in new and interactive ways through the power of performance, the wonder of exhibitions, and the excitement of path-breaking research... all in one building," said Folger Director Michael Witmore.

The Folger Shakespeare Library, located in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, DC. The building is one block from the US Capitol, next to the Library of Congress. 

The $80.5 million building expansion, designed by the Philadelphia-based architectural firm KieranTimberlake, has made the historic building more accessible, welcoming, and dynamic for everyone, from teachers and students of Shakespeare to theater and literature lovers and those curious to learn more. Founded in 1984, the 100-person practice holds prestigious design awards, publications, and exhibitions. The firm’s approach integrates the expertise of architects, researchers, and communicators to create innovative, compelling, and award-winning projects for academic, art, cultural, government, and civic institutions throughout North America and overseas.

Highlights of the renovation include:

The Great Hall has been renovated to include social-hub spaces. This entrance to the Folger theater includes oak paneling, ornamental floor tile, and high plaster ceilings. Photo by David Huff

•    A new public wing, the Adams Pavilion, with 12,000 square feet of space, houses two modern, state-of-the-art exhibition halls: the Shakespeare Exhibition Hall and the Stuart and Mimi Rose Rare Book and Manuscript Exhibition Hall.

Unfinished base of the Shakespearean printing press by designer Alan May. 
Finished press, based on the description in Joseph Moxon’s Mechanick Exercises on the Whole Art of Printing (1683). Photo by Lloyd Wolf

•    The Reading Room features new ergonomic furniture designed by Luke Hughes.

Built like the great hall of an Elizabethan house, the 131-foot Reading Room incorporates 16th- and 17th-century French and Flemish tapestries, carved oak paneling, and a high-trussed roof. Photo by David Huff

•    The intimate Elizabethan Theatre is the setting for Folger Theatre productions, early music concerts by the Folger Consort, O.B. Hardison Poetry programs, family activities, and many education programs, including the Folger’s student festivals.

With its three-tiered wooden balconies, carved oak columns, and half-timbered facade, the Theatre evokes the courtyard of an English Renaissance inn. 

Overhead, a canopy represents the sky. In Shakespeare’s day, such inns sometimes served as playhouses for traveling groups of players, who performed on a raised platform at one end while spectators gathered in the yard and on the balconies above.

Enhanced accessibility and upgrades throughout the building include accessible new entrances on the east and west sides of the building for visitors using mobility devices and families using strollers; new ramps up to the plinth where visitors can see the Shakespeare bas reliefs and other historic details up close; inside, elevator service to all public spaces; new and expanded all-gender restrooms; and state-of-the-art new HVAC systems.


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Dakota Smith | Editorial Intern

Dakota Smith is an undergraduate student at New Jersey City University studying English and Creative Writing. He is a writer at heart, and a cook by trade. His career goal is to become an author. At Woodworking Network, Dakota is an editorial intern, ready to dive into the world of woods and words.