On Friday, October 22, the AIANY Women in Architecture Committee hosted Francine Houben, Founding Partner and Creative Director of Mecanoo, as our Archtober Morning Leadership Talk featured speaker.

Francine shared her career journey and how her overarching vision to serve society and better the human experience informed her interest in design, writing and community engagement. Some of Francine’s early influences included the rational thinking of Delft University of Technology, where she studied architecture and urban planning; her travels through Japan; the sculptural thinking of Alvaro Siza; the human approach of Lina Bo Bardi; and the dramatic color and lighting of the theater world. Her designs are poetic, grounded in local context, landscape and materiality, sensitive to climate, daylight, people and the full range of the human senses. Her interest in human mobility led her to teach mobility aesthetics at the Delft University and she curated the first Rotterdam International Architecture Biennale with ‘Mobility: A Room With A View’ as the theme.

One of her early works, a Chapel in Rotterdam, features deep blue curved wall surfaces, inspired by the blue of the theater world, separated from the floor and ceiling with strips of glass that allow daylight to stream though. “You have the light of the earth and the sky, and life is in between”, says Houben.

Francine’s interest in public space, education and mobility are synthesized in her prolific oeuvre of library designs. The Library of Birmingham, United Kingdom integrates an urban building with public space, inviting people to come into the library. The circle is a compositional force that manifests volumetrically in rotundas, courtyard spaces, and within the interlocking circles of the delicate filigree skin of the façade—the continuous circle of light and circle of knowledge. The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, DC, transforms and rehabilitates a 20th-century landmark designed by Mies van der Rohe. The process of historical research, public outreach, meetings with different committees, and bringing together two strong identities—“Less is more” and “I have a dream”—resulted in a library with a human touch. Finally, The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library in Midtown Manhattan, recently completed in 2021 was a collaboration between Mecanoo and Beyer Blinder Belle. A spectacular triple height void unites all floors with daylight and visibility. We learned that libraries are about collections and communities, not books. Spaces are about life-long learning environments.

The talk concluded with audience Q&A. We thank all the attendees for the thoughtful questions, and Francine for her generosity and time.

“Architecture must appeal to all the senses and is never a purely intellectual, conceptual and visual game alone. What counts in the end is the arrangement of form and emotion.” – Francine Houben, Mecanoo

    • People, Place, Purpose
    • Dutch Mountains
    • Composition, Contrast, Complexity