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Review | Francine Houben in Stuttgart

Second lecture for the November Talks at the University Stuttgart

As the second speaker of the November Series in Stuttgart, the renowned architect Francine Houben reported not only on concrete projects but also on the fundamental design approaches of her architectural office Mecanoo, which she founded in 1984 together with four partners. "When visiting the homepage, it already becomes apparent that Mecanoo is constantly concerned with the question of how the upgrading of public areas and uses can be successfully achieved," explained Prof. Markus Allmann (Allmann Sattler Wappner . Architekten) in his introductory remarks.

Francine Houben's lecture on "People, Places, Uses and Poetry" started right here and made it clear right at the beginning: "What really fascinates me is transformation. I have noticed that uses change; places, on the other hand, remain places, and for this very reason the design of these places is the decisive factor. That is why the development of a signature style in architecture was never of significance to me. The individual place, its purpose and its real users are far more important." Francine Houben underscored this statement with the examples of the Delft City Hall and Train Station, the LocHal Library in Tilburg and the Library of Birmingham. "Each of our libraries is different. In every project I try to understand the city first. I ask: What is this place? What makes it special? What are the architectural, historical and economic influences that have shaped it? And what is the rhythm of movement within an inner-city structure like? I'm looking for solutions that don't disturb pedestrians on their way through the city, but have a positive influence and allow a natural, intuitively tangible flow of movement to develop both inside and outside."

For its City Hall and Train Station project, the office achieved direct references to Delft's urban identity by, among other things, integrating a historical city map into the ceiling design and wall coverings made of tile mosaics. The mixed use of city hall and railway station was an interesting task, because for Mrs. Houben the city hall is the parlour of a city, and public places have to work like village structures, be of modest dimensions and effectively illuminated: "I like dramatic light, it creates special atmospheres". In addition, Mecanoo cultivates the claim that every new building project should have an effective appearance from every perspective and viewpoint. This is one of the reasons why Francine Houben is convinced of interdisciplinary project development: ''Interdisciplinary work is very important to me''.

For the architect, architecture and landscape are always inseparably intertwined, as was clearly evident in the lecture on the building projects of the National Kaohsiung Centre for the Arts, the Kaohsiung Station and the Mekel Park of the Delft University of Technology campus.

The architect cited the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Washington D.C., the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building and the Mid-Manhattan Library in New York City as examples of building projects in existing contexts, commenting: "In the case of existing buildings, it is important to us that we only carry out interventions that can be dismantled. Striving for smooth flows of movement through the buildings and networking of outside and inside continue to be crucial themes. When creating new spatial structures and meaningful sequences of spatial use, the team at Mecanoo takes care to create a contemporary visitor experience that allows both communication and concentration to take place without disturbing each other. In the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building project in particular, Houben asked herself the question: "What can we do to make young people use libraries and archives as well? Public spaces are intended for the public, and so it's no surprise that the Mid-Manhattan Library not only has a new roof construction, the so-called Wizard Hat, but also a viewing platform that can be visited for free.

The third lecture of the November Series in Stuttgart takes place on 20 November. Guests are Alexandra Hagen and Barbara Vogt from White Arkitekter, Malmö.


Francine Houben spoke about her lecture at the November Talks in Stuttgart.

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