After a major three-year building renovation, the Folger Shakespeare Library will reopen its historic home on Washington, DC’s Capitol Hill to the public on November 17. The renovation will allow the Folger to share more of its collection and resources with its visitors, who will experience new exhibition halls, a learning lab, lush gardens, and expanded amenities such as a new café and gift shop.
“After much planning and dedicated work, the Folger is opening to a wider world and an even more expansive vision of what Shakespeare, the humanities, and the arts can contribute,” said Folger Director Michael Witmore. “This is a golden opportunity for us to reintroduce ourselves and welcome local, national, and international communities to the new Folger.”
The $80.5 million renovation project, designed by the Philadelphia-based architectural firm of KieranTimberlake, includes a new, 12,000-square-foot public wing under the Folger’s original Paul Philippe Cret 1932 building, a historic landmark located a block from the U.S. Capitol. The new Adams Pavilion includes two large exhibition halls, a learning lab, expansive lobbies, a new gift shop, and enhanced accessibility throughout the building. The renovation also adds collaborative research spaces, a café, social gathering spots inside and outside the building, and new gardens designed by landscape architect OLIN. The project is funded by a combination of philanthropic support and institutional resources.
After a decade of planning, the building renovation represents a commitment to make the Folger more inclusive and accessible to all people. The new galleries and visitor experiences were planned in consultation with a diverse cross-section of local community members and organizations, and are designed to create a sense of belonging and inspiration for all visitors.
“The renovation is more than buildings and spaces, it’s about creating true accessibility to the wonderful cultural resources and experiences that make the Folger a singular place to visit amongst the impressive group of DC cultural institutions,” said Karen Ann Daniels, Director of Programming and Artistic Director of Folger Theatre. “There are infinitely more possibilities for engaging our neighbors in ways that matter to them, supporting the expansive academic and artistic possibilities, as well as opportunities for local students, artists, families, tourists, and so much more.”
The new exhibition spaces will include Folger’s first permanent Shakespeare exhibition. All 82 copies of the Folger’s Shakespeare First Folios—over a third of the copies remaining in the world—will be publicly displayed together for the first time in a 20-foot-long visible vault. The First Folios will be surrounded by interactive experiences inviting visitors of all ages to explore Shakespeare, his works and world, and their connection to our own time.
“Henry and Emily Folger’s collection of First Folios have long been a source of fascination,” said Greg Prickman, Eric Weinmann Librarian and Director of Collections. “For the first time, we are able to share all of the Folger’s Folios with all of our visitors, no matter if they are longtime lovers of Shakespeare, casual fans, or just plain curious.”
The Folger’s building renovation project includes many new features designed to engage and delight groups, families, and visitors young and old. Among the building renovation highlights:
Welcoming New Gardens: Visitors enter the Adams Pavilion through fully accessible gardens filled with both native plants and plants mentioned by Shakespeare. Benches and paths invite visitors to relax, as do open green spaces and shade trees, including a heritage magnolia tree planted at the time of the Folger’s 1932 opening. Inscriptions include a Folger-commissioned poem by U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize-winner Rita Dove welcoming visitors to the Folger. A Juliet balcony overlooks the east entrance, while an aluminum replica of Brenda Putnam’s Puck statue returns to greet visitors in a new fountain in the west entry garden.
Two New Exhibition Halls: Visitors will have access to the Folger collection in two modern, state-of-the-art exhibition halls totaling 6,000 square feet, the Shakespeare Exhibition Hall and the Stuart and Mimi Rose Rare Book and Manuscript Exhibition Hall. In addition to the display of all 82 of the Folger’s Shakespeare First Folios, a printing press—modeled on ones that printed the 1623 collection of Shakespeare’s plays — is close by in the Shakespeare Exhibition Hall.
The Stuart and Mimi Rose Rare Book and Manuscript Exhibition Hall is a space where the Folger collection can be displayed in many configurations, including encounters with collection items and opportunities to explore the vast range of subjects covered by books in the Folger vaults. A dedicated gallery will host a range of changing exhibitions.
Hands-on Learning Lab: The Folger’s new center for learning allows visitors to investigate collection items up close, have fun with Shakespeare, take part in summer camp sessions, participate in special sessions for teachers and students, participate in community play readings, develop poetry, playwriting, and songwriting, enjoy lively seminars, and attend demonstrations and workshops for adults led by world-class materials researchers and artists.
Collaborative Research Spaces: New study rooms are being created for researchers to consult about rare materials with Folger curators and conservators, along with multipurpose, flexible spaces for collaboration and seminars by the Folger Institute and others. The Reading Room features new ergonomic furniture designed by Luke Hughes, whose firm has designed spaces for the UK’s Supreme Court, Yale School of Management, and Sheffield Cathedral.
Expanded Visitor Amenities: Designed to enhance the experience of all who come to the Folger, amenities include a new café in the Great Hall with comfortable seating areas. An expanded gift shop offers mementos and merchandise. Updated restrooms are located on all floors. Elevator service to all public spaces is part of enhanced building accessibility. Infrastructure improvements include state-of-the-art air conditioning systems, upgraded life safety and security, and new audiovisual enhancements to ensure a safe and comfortable experience for all.
Reconceived Researcher Services: The Folger Reading Room will offer rare materials to inform advanced research, inspire art and creation, and make the collection more accessible with a new service model. Researchers can work in the Reading Room with rare materials from the Folger collection and all materials in early 2024.
View the video below for an architect’s walkthrough of the Folger renovation: