FH (continued): the transformation of MLKL brings a new, humanistic environment at all levels, designed and programmed for the future, and it adds facilities including a public roof garden, a theater, signature staircases and a suite of community studios and workshops. a central objective of the new design is to highlight the library’s social gathering purpose and its strong presence as a social landmark in the city. the design approach balances the very different legacies of mies van der rohe and dr. king. if design decisions could favor either mies’ legacy or dr. king’s values, but not both, I would choose to go with dr. king — we must honor him by the programming, and by opening the building to everyone. mies designed a passive library to sit and read in, but the reborn library is designed to be active, a place for doing and meeting.
martin luther king jr. memorial library | image © robert benson
DB: generally speaking, how important are libraries at the moment, and how do you see them evolving going forward?
FH: I’m known for saying that libraries are the most important public buildings — I still stand by that. libraries are dynamic and continually changing. libraries shifted from a mere silent book deposit to forward-thinking platforms able to influence its surroundings and its communities. this is very important because libraries are civic buildings — it’s not only about the design, it’s the program that needs to be tailored to the context and to the communities that it serves. design should facilitate that. this is part of the mecanoo philosophy: people, place, purpose.
stavros niarchos foundation library by mecanoo and beyer blinder belle | image © john bartelstone
FH (continued): our first library, the library delft university of technology, remains as relevant as before — constantly evolving and changing after 20 years is a good example of what a library should be. recently we have completed the interior of the LocHal library in the dutch city of tilburg and the renovation and transformation of both the martin luther king jr. memorial library in washington D.C. and NYPL’s stavros niarchos foundation library in new york.
we also work on smaller scales with the same enthusiasm, in amsterdam we have been working with OBA amsterdam in two of their branches (the renovation of one of the branches located in a national monument designed by berlage, OBA mercatorplein, and a new location OBA postjesweg). in the hague we were commissioned to develop a masterplan vision for the renovation of the current hague central library located in a building designed by richard meier. in january 2021 we completed the new tainan public library and more recently we won the design competition for the new macau central library. each library has its own challenges and our task is to prepare them for unpredictable change.
stavros niarchos foundation library (section) | image © mecanoo
DB: what was the brief for the RET metro interior, and what existing problems does your design attempt to solve?
FH: the RET, the public transport company of the city of rotterdam, presented us with the following challenge: how can we provide more capacity in the existing metro, and how can we do that in the most comfortable way?
RET wanted to maximize the amount of people they can bring during peak hours, but also provide as much comfort as possible during off-peak, with the ambition of a hospitable metro interior for everyone and an increase in transport capacity by more than 20%. our research resulted in five modules, that not only provide seating or standing spaces, but also a large variety of leaning and hanging spots that take less volume on the metro, but still provide people a comfortable place to stay. the design is currently in an experimental pilot phase and we hope to continue to develop this project further.
RET metro interior | image © mecanoo
DB: what other projects is your team working on at the moment?
FH: I am particularly excited to visit both stavros niarchos foundation library and martin luther king jr. memorial library when they open all the floors to the public. it’s about the users, I need to see how people appropriate the space. unfortunately due to the current pandemic, only restricted areas were partially open to the public. I also missed the official opening of the tainan public library back in january 2021, which was such a pity. we have been in contact with our local partner and we are so pleased to hear how the city of tainan is so proud of their new library, this makes me particularly happy — I can’t wait to visit. 2021 is a very special year for mecanoo with the completion of several libraries across the globe and a few more under design.
maritime center rotterdam | image © mecanoo
read more about the project on designboom here
FH (continued): in the U.K. we are adding the final touched on kampus, a new neighborhood located at the former manchester metropolitan university campus, and the manchester engineering campus development. MECD will be the new home to the university’s four engineering schools and two research institutes from the faculty of engineering and physical sciences within its 81,000 square meters, expected to open in the fall of 2021.
museum boijmans van beuningen, rotterdam | image © mecanoo
read more about the project on designboom here
FH (continued): we’re also focused in the netherlands and rotterdam. not that we ever left the dutch market, despite the current pandemic there is a great deal of investment and enthusiasm in the construction sector. cities are getting more competitive, they want to become more attractive — it’s interesting to see this process. we are working on several master planning projects and mobility as always is part of my agenda, we need to build better cities for our families and communities. back in rotterdam, we are involved in several projects, vision and studies. it’s great the energy that you feel in rotterdam, you can see that the city will change a lot in this upcoming decade — I want to be part of that change.
holland park west, diemen | image © mecanoo
DB: in our 2008 interview, you said you were a very optimistic person. do you remain optimistic about the future?
FH: this moment challenges us to re-imagine and re-think how we live together as a society and what our role as design professionals should be. the future is about ‘forward to basics’. I would like to reflect on this not only thinking about architecture practices, because architecture is all about multi-disciplinary teamwork. the lessons we learn from this pandemic will have a deep impact on the future of design, be it cities, public spaces, infrastructure, hospitality, learning environments, public buildings etc.
going forward to basics is not complacency, but rational. these words apply to everything architecture, design and urban planning should do. our lifestyle, habits, routines, travel and social interactions changed completely with most countries going into lockdown.
yes, there is an emergency, but that doesn’t mean we should panic. I am very positive about the future, now it’s time to be resilient. there is this idea that you need to look further in order to get the best or the most memorable experiences. that couldn’t be more far from the truth. some of your best experiences can be found just around the corner.
over the past decades, encountering people all around the world has showed to me and underlined what everyone everywhere wants. the very simple things, to take care of their children and to be able to provide them with a better future. it’s about friends, family and communities.
francine houben at the stavros niarchos foundation library | image © roger neve
DB: what role do architects have in ensuring a brighter future for our societies?
FH: I believe the human condition should be central to the future of design. we need to recognize the value of every individual, people’s engagement with each other, or culture, or nature, or in many cases a combination of both. our attitude to earth needs to change, nature has an irreplaceable value and beauty. it’s vital that we reconnect to it.
as country’s borders turn inward, it’s more important than ever to uphold the value of compassion, and knowledge-sharing to connect people to one another. the future is likely to bring more focus on the human scale, where the experience of each individual drives the design.
I think the concepts of public space and hygiene will become central in the future development of our cities and the connection with the countryside. mobility as we know will change. as the current pandemic unfolds, we see how our systems of support and supply are vulnerable to disruption and most of our networks have been exposed as inadequate. as I said previously, architecture is all about multi-disciplinary teamwork. now it’s time for the design community to come together, we need cooperation to face the challenge and to prepare the next steps.
and maybe, just maybe, we need to realize that instead of the capitalist model of economic growth, happiness should be the goal for societies to strive for. design alone cannot change the global economic system, but it can help craft, step by step, a world that’s happier.