Robe and Crown: Birmingham's new library
'Ooooo...' read the busy lines of 5,357 overlapping aluminium circles, zinging across the hypnotic filigree frieze mounted around the £189m Library of Birmingham. 'Ooh!' visitors will surely react, encountering the electric exhilaration it offers outside and in. But don't say an 'ooh' when speaking the name of new library's Dutch architect Mecanoo -- it is pronounced like the hobby kit Meccano, which inspired its founding group of architecture students at Delft's University of Technology (TUDelft) in 1984.
Francine Houben is the last of the gang still there, and now leads a 115-strong practice. The Mecanoo office in Delft occupies a converted canalside convent hospital. In its airy gothic-arched meeting room, the surprisingly soft-spoken Houben declares: 'I like to create unforgettable spaces.' She has nothing of the dark intensity of OMA's Rem Koolhaas, or the mischievous hints of MVRDV's Winy Maas, but like her fellow Netherlanders from those nearby Rotterdam-based practices, she talks with a considered earnestness, and she too commands a global portfolio.
Words by Herbert Wright
Photographs by Paul Raftery