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Column Marianne Loof | Francine Houben, the Dafne Schippers of Architecture

23 September 2015

Cobouw marianne loof 150921 francine houben als de dafne schippers van de architectuur

Last week it was announced that Francine Houben, together with her bureau Mecanoo, has been selected for a prestigious assignment in New York: the renovation of the New York Public Library (NYPL).

The Beaux Arts-building is much more than just a library. It is a city-icon of great magnitude, embraced and protected by the people of New York. Previously, the English architect Norman Foster had failed to win over their hearts with his modernisations. Now, it appears that Mecanoo, after a procedure of a year, has succeeded on account of the bureau’s “renowned humanistic and accessible designs”. Even though the bureau recently gained international prestige with libraries in Birmingham and Washington, for a bureau to be selected in the international Major League of architecture, is definitely no sinecure. That a Dutch architect has been selected for such a prestigious assignment is for me something to celebrate.

Like a typical Dutch office from the eighties and nineties, Mecanoo’s roots are in housing projects. The office developed from the width of the profession into an international architect of public buildings. In the past week, I was stricken by the surprised reactions from predominantly male colleges. The outcome has not yet fully landed in the international rankings among Dutch architects. This will take some time. The selection of Francine Houben by the critical New York can be compared to the world championship of Dafne Schippers on the 200 metres sprint; from heptathlete to queen of sprint in an international playing field. An achievement of great magnitude by Francine Houben!

September 2015,