Talking to jurors. Francine Houben: «dare to be bold»

This year we’ve tasked our jurors with envisioning the future of product design. Each one of them had their own ideas to share with us and we’ve decided to collect their thoughts in a series of interviews called “Talking to Jurors”. We’ve asked all of them what they’re looking for in an entry and what they’re going to reward. Among all of their predictions and opinions, one stood out – design must be human and provide solutions that meet people’s needs. What is truly unforgettable is the product’s ability to improve the lives of everyone.

Here’s what the Architect Francine Houben (Delft, Netherlands) is looking forward to finding in all entries, giving Architects and Designers a precious advice: dare.


What are you looking forward to finding in our entries and which features are you going to reward?

Experimentalism and multidisciplinary designs. I often say that I am specialized in things I have never done before, since I believe it’s very important to experiment, change directions, dare to be bold. When we dare to try new things, to think outside the box, beautiful things can happen. 

Multidisciplinarity is crucial, especially nowadays. Long are the days where we would work isolated. Working in close contact with other disciplines is essential, we have to learn from each other. Share knowledge. At Mecanoo we share the same values. Aesthetics and functionality are key when evaluating all entries. I will give special attention to that.


Which role do you think a Design Award should have nowadays? 

Design Awards can be a very important platform for the Designer. Most of all, it’s the recognition of their work. The exposure and visibility can set the Designer into a new business direction, make new contacts and understand what others are doing around the world. This exchange is important as well. Awards, and award events should have a stronger social responsibility component, be agents of change, educate, participate.


In which direction should contemporary Product Design go and how should it evolve to answer people’s needs?

The world is in flux — swept up in climate change, ceaseless urbanization, the digitization of systems, knowledge and life, and global shifts in power, population and wealth. The questions are what will these forces demand of Design, and how will Designers respond? We need to shift our focus to these subjects. Focus on people and not on the elite.


Francine Houben sketching (© Harry Cock)

Francine Houben at Mecanoo (© Harry Cock)

National Kaohsiung Centre for the Arts (Kaohsiung, Taiwan) by Mecanoo


About Francine Houben

Francine Houben (the Netherlands, 1955) is Founding Partner and Creative Director of Mecanoo architecten. Her work ranges from theatres, museums and libraries to neighbourhoods, housing and parks. Each design is founded on observation of people, location, culture and climate. This analysis amounts to designs that respond to current needs, yet are also prepared for (un)predictable change.

With her practice, she has gained international acclaim. She holds Honorary Fellowships of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC) was granted lifelong membership to the Akademie der Künste in Berlin. In 2015, Queen Máxima of the Netherlands presented her the prestigious Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds Prize for her entire oeuvre. In 2018, Francine Houben received the BNA Kubus Award (Branchevereniging Nederlandse Architectenbureaus).

Francine Houben was professor of mobility aesthetics at Delft University of Technology and also taught at the universities of Harvard and Yale. As curator of the First International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam, she brought the theme of the aesthetics of mobility to the forefront of international design consciousness. She holds Honorary Doctorates from Utrecht University and Université de Mons.

Selected works include Delft University of Technology Library, Delft (1997), La Llotja Theatre and Congress Centre, Lleida, Spain (2008), Library of Birmingham, United Kingdom (2013), Bruce C. Bolling Municipal Building, Boston, United States (2015) and National Kaohsiung Center for the Arts, Taiwan (2018). Currently, she is working on the renovation of the New York Public Library and the central library of Washington, DC – designed by Mies van der Rohe.


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