Ms. Houben, as a champion of public architecture and urban redevelopment, have you always been fascinated by public spaces?
For me, thinking in a public way — it’s always been part of my thinking! Even if you look at our early works, they focused on affordable housing in urban-regeneration areas in the Netherlands, because in the 1970s, 1980s, that was a big issue. And I was not just thinking about how affordable housing would work, but also how it worked in a collective way: what it meant to the street, to the neighborhood, to the city. So thinking of public spaces, this is like a red line, flowing through the work of my firm, Mecanoo. Thinking of the society and how to contribute to it, that's how I was raised by my parents, my brothers and sisters.
Apparently you grew up in a big family, and moved around The Netherlands a fair bit during your childhood.
Yes, I’m number four or five kids, which is a pleasant position: you're not the youngest one, nor the oldest one. So I could go very much my own way. But as you said, we were constantly moving across different parts of The Netherlands — we always had to adjust. I was born in the south, which is different from the Hague, and more so different from the north: I remember once there wasn’t even a highway connecting the new town we had moved to. We often did not go on holidays, because we were either moving, building or renovating a house or, you know, simply adjusting to the new environment. But I totally enjoyed it! Different kinds of people, different kinds of landscape…
Do you think this was the beginning of you becoming more aware of public spaces?
I think it was important. I remember, on summer evenings, when it would still be light until 11 at night, my mother would take all of us for a long walk, to try to understand the new neighbourhood, the new region. But the funny thing is, everyone else was so sick of moving again. And I always thought, “Oh great, we’re moving to another city!” (Laughs) So it's also, of course, your own identity. My first projects in the 1980s were from the very beginning very people-focused.
Read the full interview at 'The Talks'.
The interview was conducted by Ana Bogdan.