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Francine Houben crowned Woman Architect of the Year

Founding partner of Mecanoo, Francine Houben, has won this year’s Woman Architect of the Year Award

The Dutch architect picked up the prestigious award at a ceremony held at London’s Langham Hotel today (7 February).

Houben, who founded Mecanoo in 1984, was described by the judges as ‘confident but humble’.

In the past year Houben completed one of the practice’s highest-profile UK projects, the £193 million Library of Birmingham, which was voted building of the year in an online poll of AJ readers.

Collecting the award, Houben said: ‘I feel privileged to be a woman, a mother, and an architect.

‘It was a great privilege to design the Library of Birmingham. Architecture is about teamwork, about being supportive and visionary at the same time. Women are especially good at that.’

Awards judge and executive director of the Pritzker Prize, Martha Thorne said: ‘Francine Houben is a woman who leads a very large office – 120 people. She is someone who is able to combine that leadership role with the highest quality of architecture and is therefore a wonderful example.’

Maggie’s director and awards judge, Laura Lee, added: ‘I hope that everyone will agree with the judges’ decision – it wasn’t an easy one.’

Houben was chosen ahead of Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara of Grafton Architects, Maria Langarita of Langarita-Navarro Arquitectos, Roisin Heneghan of Heneghan Peng, Kirsten Lees of Grimshaw, Sadie Morgan, dRMM and Adriana Natcheva of Groves Natcheva Architects.

Previous recipients of the accolade have been Alison Brooks in 2013 and joint winners Michál Cohen and Cindy Walters in 2012.

The awards ceremony to celebrate the ROCA-sponsored AJ Women in Architecture campaign, which is now in its third year, also included a keynote speech from Hopkins Architects’ co-founder Patty Hopkins.

Q&A with Francine Houben

Why did you choose architecture? When my older brother took me to see TU Delft, I entered the model-making room of the architecture faculty and instantly knew I would be an architect. I have a strong desire to combine human, technical and aesthetical aspects in an unorthodox way, and to contribute to a better world. Architecture gives me the opportunity to do all of that.

What is your design ethos? Architecture must appeal to all the senses. It is never a purely intellectual, conceptual or visual game. Architecture is about combining all of the individual elements into a single concept. What counts in the end is the arrangement of form and emotion.

Which architects inspire you? Ray Eames and Lina Bo Bardi.

What is your advice to aspiring female architects? Looking back, my career consists of logical steps and choices. Starting my own practice was never my goal. My dream was to be able to act on the ideas, energy, ambition and drive I was bursting with. Building a client base, a multi-disciplinary team and a professional organisation was simply a necessity to realise that dream. So my advice is to remain true to yourself, use your common sense and follow your dreams with determination.

What is the biggest challenge facing women in architecture today? For both men and women, the challenge lies in changing the perception of the architect. Architecture is never a solo act. I like to compare it to directing a symphony orchestra; it’s all about teamwork, about being visionary, sensitive and supportive at the same time. Women are especially good at that.

Amsterdam University College, interior view

Amsterdam University College, interior view

Curriculum vitae

Place of study Delft University of Technology

Current projects Wei-Wu-Ying Center for the Performing Arts, Kaohsiung, Taiwan; Dudley Municipal Offices, Boston, United States; the HOME Art and Culture House in Manchester; post-doctorate housing scheme for the University of Cambridge; a new city hall and train station, Delft

Clients Birmingham City Council, Manchester City Council, North West Cambridge, City of Boston; Ministry of Culture Taiwan, Schiphol Real Estate and Rabobank, The Netherlands

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