At the outbreak of the corona pandemic, architect Francine Houben was able to travel back to the Netherlands from New York just in time. From her rural Dutch farm we talk to her via Skype about how things are going during the coronavirus pandemic with Mecanoo and the Mecanoos, as she affectionately calls her employees.
How is it going at Mecanoo?
"Actually, it is going amazingly well. Whether I'm calling from home or from New York, it doesn't matter to me. A few months ago I was still in New York and left right at the turning point. I do find it fascinating that over there they really didn't know what was heading for them. And I'm not talking about small institutes like Yale, where I teach, and the New York Public Library. When I returned to the Dutch rollercoaster of the corona, our company had to adapt quickly. At the same time, we were already well prepared. With our servers and Microsoft Teams in place, we are used to collaborating online. It is nice to see that we were even able to advise clients and municipalities on how to do this."
Times of crisis are often times of contemplation. Mecanoo was also founded during the crisis in the 80s. Does this crisis bring you other insights?
"I have a philosophy that I am writing a book about. ‘Forward to basics.’ I believe that in the future we will not go 'back to basics', but 'forward to basics.’ Very basic matters will become important. The topics I encounter during this crisis fit exactly with that direction. Walkable buildings, walkable cities, bikeable cities, bringing food closer to people, hygiene in public buildings. These are all themes that I have been working on for a long time. 'Forward to basics' is and remains, even with what is happening now, my adagio. Strengthening human values with the use of technology."
What about ongoing projects? Are they continuing? How do you see it in the near future, do you need to make adjustments in working hours?
"So far everything just continues. We don't have to worry about the short term and have a buffer. I find it shocking that some companies are already on the brink of collapse after only a month with no turnover. I was brought up to save for a rainy day. We don't think we should ask for handouts. Of course, just like everyone else, I don't know what it's going to look like in six months. We want to take our responsibility and carry on, so that the economy keeps running."
Read the full interview at Archello.
Photo by Roger Neve.