EXCLUSIVE: Mecanoo's Francine Houben tells CLAD about the studio's renovation of New York Public Library

Mecanoo co-founder Francine Houben has told CLAD about the studio’s plans for their US$300m (€264m, £208m) renovation of New York’s iconic public library.

In an exclusive interview featured in the latest issue of CLADmag, Houben revealed how the Dutch multidisciplinary practice are approaching the project – the latest in a string of high-profile libraries they have worked on.

“We will approach the New York Public Library project the same way we approach all of our projects – by observing,” said Houben. “We are trying to understand the history and the future of the library, observing people in the city and imagining how they could use it in five, 10 or 50 years’ time.”

Houben said that future-proofing is an essential part of such a project, and the importance of “designing for unpredictable change” cannot be overlooked.

The project, which is being funded with city, state, and private money, will start with the renovation of the Mid-Manhattan Library – which received approximately 1.7 million visits in 2014 – creating a modern circulating library, a business library, a large education space, and spaces for public programmes and classes.

Houben said a priority for Mecanoo is ensuring the completed library will appeal to all possible users. “For me, the New York Public Library is a symbol of all the libraries in the world,” she said. “It’s a library for everyone – for the whole melting pot that is New York society.

“Libraries are about so much more than books. They’re about meeting other people, learning from them, creating things. The New York Public Library had such importance for all immigrants coming to New York. They felt this was a place where they were free, where they could get connected to their own country and their own language but could also learn the new language.”

Mecanoo’s previous library buildings include the Stirling Prize-nominated Library of Birmingham in the UK – described by Houben as “a people’s palace” – and the Delft University of Technology Library in the Netherlands. They are also renovating Mies van der Rohe’s Martin Luther King Jr Memorial Library in Washington DC and building a public library in Tainan.

While each design is different in form and style, Houben added that the practice’s approach and values unite them. “People expect architects to have a form-based style,” she said. “For me, that’s not intellectually interesting. The world of Mecanoo is warm, it’s human, it’s well-detailed, it’s reacting to local culture. Our projects are very different, but what unites them is the idea of people, place, purpose. Looking back, I recognise the coherence of the work we’ve done.”

Houben will spend much of 2016 in New York to work on the New York Public Library design process, ahead of construction in 2017.

The exciting, project-filled new issue of CLAD, featuring the full interview with Francine Houben, has just been released and can be read online, on Digital Turning Pages and as a text PDF download.

Mecanoo  Francine Houben  New York Public Library  CLADmag  architecture  design 
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Mecanoo co-founder Francine Houben has told CLAD about the studio’s plans for their US$300m (€264m, £208m) renovation of New York’s iconic public library. In an exclusive interview featured in the latest issue of CLADmag, Houben revealed how the Dutch multidisciplinary practice are approaching the project – the latest in a string of high-profile libraries they have worked on. “We will approach the New York Public Library project the same way
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Mecanoo co-founder Francine Houben is leading the US$300m New York library renovation project / Mecanoo
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