10 Q&A with Archilovers: Francine Houben of Mecanoo

by Archilovers
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Mecanoo, officially founded in Delft in 1984, is made up of a highly multidisciplinary staff of creative professionals from 25 countries. The team includes architects, engineers, interior designers, urban planners, landscape architects, and architectural technicians.

The company is led by creative director/founding partner, Francine Houben, design and research director/partner Dick van Gameren, and technical director Friso van der Steen.

Mecanoo’s projects range from single houses to complete neighbourhoods and skyscrapers, cities and polders, schools, theatres and libraries, hotels, museums, and even a chapel.


Here we “peek behind the curtain” of Mecanoo by asking Francine Houben to answer 10 simple questions to give us an inside look at her work and life:



1. When you were a child, what did you dream you'd become? When did you realize you’d become an architect?

I once visited my brother who was studying at the Technical University in Delft. When I saw the model room of the university..I immediately realized that I wanted to become an architect!


2. What are your passions besides architecture?

I relax by cooking, I have “jam” (marmalade) sessions with family and friends on our farm. Picking and cooking apples, tomatoes and quinces. That keeps me grounded, because through all the traveling I often lose sight on the seasons.


3. What’s the projects among yours that better represents you?

I consider every building to be a baby, so it's hard to say which building I like best. I love architecture that touches all the senses. Warm, intuitive, tactile, well detailed and the acoustics must be good, otherwise you will go crazy. There is a professional style that is very minimalist, everything must be gray, concrete, glass and metal. I don't like that.

My smallest project, less than 100 square meters, is my most personal one: the St. Mary of the Angels Chapel in Rotterdam. I was raised as a Roman Catholic, know the rituals and backgrounds. I no longer adhere to religion; I think you just have to be good for humanity. But I am optimistic, that belongs more to Catholics than Calvinists. And in my work, you see decorations, symbols and stories.


6. What does your house look like?

My house in Rotterdam is my own design which is certainly confronting. I think that is why many architects prefer to live in an existing house. My house is a permanent laboratory, with a concrete floor, various stairs and an acoustic ceiling. Of course, there are also some less fortunate choices but overall, I am happy with my ‘testing ground”.


7. What’s the trip or city you will never forget and what is your dream destination?

I very much like camping in a small, beautiful tent in a national park. Fire, family and friends around it, that makes me happy. Far from civilization.

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, Mecanoo 


8. Is there a particular place in your city you live that inspires you or where you love spending your time?

I had always wanted to live in New York for a while. Since we are renovating the New York Public Library it became my second city for three or four years. New York gives energy, I have worked intensively there. But it is just as interesting to make the library of the future in Washington in the building of Mies van der Rohe. Boston, New York, Washington, Toronto, they are all characterful cities.


9. List your favorite material, shape and color.

The palette of materials I use always depends on the place and the purpose. If there is a lot of sculpturally I like to use fewer materials. In the interior, it is often more interesting to use a varied palate to touch the human senses.


10. List your favorite book, movie, song.

I have so many favorite books. But also, the movies of Jaques Tati, and Bladerunner of Riddley Scott. And the Belly of an Architect of Peter Greenaway have been a great inspiration.






Photo Courtesy © Mecanoo


    St. Mary of the Angels Chapel 3

    St. Mary of the Angels Chapel

    Rotterdam / Netherlands / 2001