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Woman Architect of the Year shortlist: Francine Houben

Founding partner of Mecanoo Architecten, Francine Houben for the 2014 AJ Women in Architecture Awards

Founded by Francine Houben in 1984, Dutch practice Mecanoo Architecten now employs 120 staff, of which 40 per cent are women. 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. Houben is a professor at Delft University of Technology (TU Delft), a visiting professor at Harvard University and has sat on the jury for a number of major international architecture competitions.

Visualisation of Dudley Municipal Offices, Boston, USA

Visualisation of Dudley Municipal Offices, Boston, USA

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


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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