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R E 4cwomen's day iconMarch 8 marks International Women’s Day, and is the perfect opportunity to profile Francine Houben, who won the Architects’ Journal Women in Architecture Awards last month.

Houben won the Award for designing the £193 million Library of Birmingham (voted as the Building of the Year, 2013), with an amphitheatre, rooftop gardens and reading rooms branching out from a rotunda. For the jury, the piece de resistance that sealed Houben’s victory was the conception of the dramatic ‘Shakespeare Memorial’ on the rooftop, a goldplated crown with a central opening to the skies.

Houben’s career progression from developing innovative, social housing projects as a student, to designing iconic cultural heritage projects like the Schouwburg Amphion which combine architecture, urban planning and landscape architecture, has been a remarkable journey. Unlike her contemporaries, it is difficult to categorise Houben’s architectural style as her blueprints incorporate a love of nature, an aesthetic composition of empty space, analysis, intuition, emotion and a focus on durability.

After realising numerous projects throughout the Netherlands and Europe, including the Philips Business Innovation Centre and the Delft University of Technology Library, she is now expanding her architectural vision globally, with designs for Taiwan’s Wei-Wu-Ying Centre, Boston’s Dudley Municipal Centre and China’s Shenzhen Cultural Centre.

Her contribution to architecture has been acknowledged through many honours, including the Veuve Clicquot Business Woman of the Year, Honorary Fellow, Royal Institute of British Architects and the American Institute of Architects.

In a field dominated by men, Houben’s achievements are not restricted to breaking away from conventional designs, they include having the conviction and foresight to start her own practice and build a diverse customer portfolio.

Her acceptance speech at the Architecture Awards encapsulates how women have inspired change in architecture: “I feel privileged to be a woman, to be a mother and to be an architect, which was not always an easy combination. I strongly believe that architecture is about teamwork, about being visionary and supportive at the same time. Women are especially good at that.”

– Ayesha Shaikh
First published in the Careers Section of The DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on March 2, 2014.