The Architect’s Newspaper’s Facades+ conference, part of a conference series on innovative building envelopes, has once again touched down in New York City. This year’s morning keynote speaker, Francine Houben of Mecanoo, delved deep into the firm’s projects around the world. The Dutch architect described seven very different projects, united by technically demanding facades that all referenced the unique history of their surroundings. Houben began with the Maritime and Beachcombers Museum on the isle of Texel, The Netherlands. The 4,000-square-foot museum punches above its weight with a facade of vertically-oriented, recycled wood planks that dapple the incoming sunlight and reference the maritime history of the island. “I’m here to tell you how I work,” said Houben. “I try to observe, I try to extend the flow of the people, how they walk through the city; how can I connect these people to the building, bring them up?” That attention to observation extends to a series of contextual facades. In discussing the Palace of Justice in Córdoba, Spain, Houben referenced the city’s extreme heat and the way that residents layered terraces to block the harsh sunlight as key factors that drove the densely-layered development around courtyard recesses. The tessellating perforations in the white glass fiber reinforced concrete (GFRC) panels passively shade the interiors and cool occupants while also referencing historic sun shading in the region. A blending of old and new design also featured prominently into Mecanoo’s work on the Bruce C. Bolling Municipal Building in Boston. The firm’s first built projects in the U.S.–in collaboration with the locally-based Sasaki Associates–involved inserting a sinuous brick building on a triangular plot with curving historical facades in each corner. The integration of the freestanding stone facades was accomplished by convincing then-mayor Thomas Menino to purchase and expand the initial site to include two other buildings beyond the original’s single-facade scope. In between the historic remnants, Mecanoo paid homage to Boston’s history of intricate brickwork by designing snaking walls built from bricks laid vertically and in a variety of other patterns. Houben described the influence as “Boston meets the Netherlands”. Infilling with sensitivity and drawing from the surrounding environment are strong hallmarks of Mecanoo’s work. But beyond the aesthetic appeal of the firm’s facades, Mecanoo makes sure that they’re also practical and contribute to the comfort of those inside. “We always try to combine the formal with the informal,” said Houben. “The inside with the outside.”
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Constructed adjacent to a UNESCO World Heritage site, the new Palace of Justice in Córdoba, Spain delivers a contemporary take on the traditional courtyard typology and Moorish screening techniques found throughout the city. Led by Dutch firm Mecanoo and Spain's AYESA, the 51,000-square-foot super dense project was initially awarded after a competition in 2006, and after a long delay, it was designed and built from 2014–2017. The exterior cladding is responsive to large massing blocks that accommodate deep courtyard recesses for daylight admittance. These voids in an otherwise imposing monolithic block doubly function as spatial dividers for various internal zones serving civic, judicial, administrative, and institutional spaces. The resulting semi-public patio spaces offer up an opportunity for admittance of natural light and ventilation deep into the core of the block, where a central circulation “spine” runs. The cladding strategy is precisely coordinated with the massing of the building, relying on 33 versions of white glass fiber reinforced concrete (GFC) panels, articulated with a loose grid of punched window openings and recesses in the facade for texture. The depth of this system offers solar shading at glazed openings to help buffer the building’s occupants from southern Spain’s subtropical climate. A large cantilevered entry, and numerous courtyards, assist in the self-shading strategies of the building massing. A bronze-anodized aluminum lattice composed of vertical plates and horizontal tie rods clads the courtyard walls. These screens sit outboard of various window configurations to accommodate the office program beyond. While the Córdoba city center is located south-east from the site, the building volume was condensed to create a generous ramping entrance square to the north which connects the Palace of Justice with the existing Huerta del Sordillo gardens. The building contains a courthouse with 26 courtrooms, a wedding room, a Forensic Institute, offices, a cafe, an archive, a prison, and a parking garage."One can say that the sustainability of the building is not achieved by expensive technological mechanisms but by an intelligent interpretation of the vernacular architecture," said Mecanoo, referring to the unique shaping of their building, in a press release. "The massing strategy creates urban integration through fragmentation. It follows a similar strategy to the spontaneous growth process of medieval cities resulting in a volume which is carefully sculpted to adapt to the surrounding context. This results in a puzzle-like structure which hints its process of formation and emulates the experience of the dense historical center of Córdoba." Francine Houben, a founder of Mecanoo, will be delivering a keynote presentation at The Architect's Newspaper's (AN) upcoming Facades+ New York conference, a two-day event in mid-April focused on the design and performance of the next generation of facades. More information on the conference, along with registration details, can be found at facadesplus.com.
Here's what the main branch of the New York Public Library (NYPL) could look like after renovations by Mecanoo and Beyer Blinder Belle. At last night's Board of Trustees meeting, NYPL revealed a master plan by the two firms for the lion-flanked Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street.
Under the $317 million plan, there will be 20 percent more public space in the building, much of it derived from repurposed staff and back-of-house space. Among the changes, storage and former staff rooms will be converted into research, exhibition, and education rooms, including a new Center for Research and Learning, a space for high school and college students to learn how to use the research library. Outside, an entrance on 40th Street and new elevators will welcome visiting groups, while new elevators near 40th Street will replace back-of-house rooms. A cafe will replace a map storage area that is now closed to the public. “We have developed a master plan that inherently adheres to the logic of a Beaux-Arts building,” said Mecanoo Founding Partner Francine Houben, in prepared remarks. “Our changes are both subtle and clever—to direct the flow for different user groups, for example, or to improve the quality and function of currently underused spaces.” The building will be adapted around its historic interiors, including the landmarked Rose Main Reading Room and Bill Blass Public Catalog Room, as well as Astor Hall, and the Maps, Periodicals, and Genealogy reading rooms, which are un-landmarked. In some corners of the city, the re-location of the seven floors of stacks is the most controversial aspect of the plan. The master plan doesn't include a definitive plan for the 175,000-square-feet subterranean rooms, but Mecanoo and Beyer Blinder Belle will conduct a study to explore possibilities for the space, with public input. The NYPL says the stacks, which are filled with circulating books while the Mid-Manhattan Library is being renovated, don't meet present-day standards for housing delicate research material. "The stacks should be used for their original purpose, which is to hold books," said Charles Warren, president of advocacy group Committee to Save the New York Public Library. Warren, who attended last night's trustees meeting, said the stacks are crucial to library researchers. Fragile research materials are held in climate- and light-controlled storage under Bryant Park, and books in the stacks can make it to the Reading Room in less than 30 minutes, while books off-site take at least one business day to reach the library. A library spokesperson confirmed that the timing won't change post renovation. "I'm a little troubled [the NYPL] has thrown the door back open to other crazy, expensive options to re-use the stacks," he said. "The plans are unacceptably vague, but at least they're exploring the question with an open mind." The public will get to hear about the master plan next week, on November 20 at 5 p.m. in the Schwarzman Building’s Celeste Auditorium. Instead of stamp-ready plans, the plan is a roadmap for the design, which is still in development. Back in 2015, the NYPL Board of Trustees unanimously selected Dutch firm Mecanoo and New York's Beyer Blinder Belle to renovate the Schwarzman Building as well as the Mid-Manhattan Library across Fifth Avenue. Work has already begun on the latter building, which will reopen as the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library in early 2020, while renovations to the Schwarzman Building will wrap in 2021. This story has been updated with clarifying information about the stacks.
Dutch studio Mecanoo has unveiled their proposal for a transportation hub in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. The project will be the firm's sixth project in the country and third in Kaohsiung where Mecanoo has an office, located at the Southern end of the Island. Offering integrated train, metro, local, and intercity bus services, along with taxi and bicycle access, the new Kaohsiung Station is the centerpiece of the Kaohsiung Metropolitan Area Underground Railway Project. That project includes seven underground stations spanning a four mile tunnel, however the station aims to contribute significantly to life above ground too. Here, swathes of greenery inhabit the site in the form of green roofs and generous planting arrangements. The rounded roofscape exhibits a sense of calm within what is typically a chaotic environment. Totaling 376,700 square-feet of greenery, the grass on the roof also establishes connections between various modes of transport and is, in Mecanoo's words, meant to "Kaohsiung’s vision for the future as a sustainable city." The building's central hall, located below, opens upwards with a series of oval-shaped lights arranged to form a semi-tessellating pattern in the ceiling. Part of the 139,930 square foot sunken station plaza, the sculpted roof shields the open public plaza from Kaohsiung’s tropical climate. This design allows the space to host events, markets, traditional open air opera, or a mobile libraries, among other activities. “The most important events in Taiwanese villages take place on the main square in front of the temple, lit with traditional red lanterns," said Francine Houben, creative director of Mecanoo. "The central hall has been designed as a contemporary equivalent of this, creating a memorable experience for travelers." "The sprawling green canopy protects the open public plaza underneath from Kaohsiung’s tropical climate like large trees would do," she continued. "Here people can meet, enjoy a refreshing breeze, or visit events that take place at the station, like a farmers’ market, second hand market, traditional open air opera or a mobile library." The building is due to be complete by 2024.
Dutch firm Mecanoo Architecten has been awarded commission to go ahead with their design for a new public library in Tainan, Taiwan. The practice will work alongside Taiwanese firm MAYU Architects+ for the project that will occupy 376,736 square feet. Aside from being a library, the space will feature a children's area, public courtyard, cafe, conference hall, and a 200-seat auditorium. Within the library area itself will be specialized areas such as reading rooms, special collections, and study spaces. Mecanoo have established a strong pedigree when it comes to the library typology, with the well regarded Birmingham Library in the UK to their name along with another library scheme in the making in Manchester, also in the UK. Their design for the Tainan Public Library (its official title) aims to reflect the merging of cultures, generations, and histories within the site. A selection of natural materials including stone and wood consequently aims to attach the building to its locality. In addition, the city's history will be depicted by an ancient map of Tainan transposed onto vertical louvres. The structure, when taken at a glance, also resembles that of Corbusier's Villa Savoye, though on a bigger scale. Upon closer inspection, one can see the buildings perimeter expand at each level, supported by the stilts that follow the perimeter of the top floor. This system results in a canopy being able to offer shade all around the building, amplifying the threshold between the private interior and public exterior spaces. This schematic also effects the interior configuration too. The surrounding wooden fenestration filters sunlight entering the space, interacting and casting patterns on the stone floor. The building's aesthetic is primarily orthogonal, so a curvaceous staircase offers a nice counter, acting as an anchor and reference point for circulation. An open plan scheme allows for adaptation, and Mecanoo has also allocated 139,930 square feet for future expansion. The project is set to cost $44 million and is due to be open to the public at the close of 2018.
The New York Public Library's Board of Trustees unanimously selected the Dutch firm Mecanoo to lead the renovation of the NYPL's Stephen A. Schwarzman Building (the main branch at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street), as well as the Mid-Manhattan Library at 455 5th Avenue. Mecanoo's creative director and founding parter Francine Houben will lead the design team. New York's Beyer Blinder Belle will be the architect of record. Construction begins in late 2017 and is expected to run through 2019. After the Board of Trustees nixed Norman Foster's renovation scheme, the board invited 24 firms to submit proposals for the redesign in February 2013. 21 proposals were received, and the pool of contenders was winnowed down to eight, four and then two over four months, from June to September, 2015. Mecanoo was announced at the September 16th meeting of the NYPL's Board of Trustees. Mecanoo's plan for the main branch will include 42 percent more space for scholarly research and exhibitions. The Mid-Manhattan Library will receive a complete interior renovation to accommodate classrooms, a circulating library, and a business library.
The Dutch firm from Delft has already made a significant impact in the UK when they unveiled Europe's largest library in Birmingham. In what will be its third development in the city, the University of Manchester has announced plans for a new 839,000 square foot engineering campus designed by Mecanoo. In the words of Mecanoo, the campus "will transform the way in which the University educates future engineers in response to the needs of the fast-changing global economy." Set to open in 2020, the development is part of the University's scheme "to create a world-leading teaching, learning and research campus to develop the engineers and innovators of tomorrow." The site will be the University's fourth School for Engineering under the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences. In addition to this it will also become a base for 1,300 academics, researchers and support staff as well as 6,750 students. Instead of designing a group of buildings for the school, Mecanoo went with a single holistic building that employs an expressed structural steel frame. Professor Martin Schröder, Vice-President and Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences at the University, said: “This outstanding new campus development will build upon our proud heritage of innovation and discovery across engineering and science that began with the establishment of the Manchester Mechanics’ Institute in 1824. MECD will inspire engineers to continue our pioneering spirit and to apply their knowledge and help modern industry overcome global challenges, such as climate change, finite natural resources and changing world markets.” Mecanoo is also designing the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Washington D.C., the Delft Municipal Offices and Train Station, and La Llotja Theatre and Conference Centre in Lleida, Spain. The firm also completed its first project in Boston earlier this year.
Dutch firm Mecanoo’s latest civic building represents a new era in library design. The new Library of Birmingham in the UK replaces the former James Hardin–designed central library, a brutalist concrete structure. The new library is a sleek expression of the evolving nature of education and learning in the 21st century. The modern, metal-clad structure houses a variety of services, including a multimedia center, two cafés, a music library, a performance space, green outdoor terraces, a shop and a gallery. The design vision is that the space will offer culture and entertainment, as well as learning and information. The library’s director, Brian Gambles, told the Guardian that libraries must be relevant to the community, and that the way people learn and use libraries, is changing. The building comprises of a stack of four rectangular volumes for a total of 10 stories and penetrated by a central void. Each rectangular volume is staggered to create various canopies and landscaped terraces. The expansive, open-plan floors are connected with weaving flights of escalators, which ascend from the library terraces, up through floating rings of bookshelves, to the light-flooded atrium above. A series of overlapping metal hoops of the facade create striking patterns of light and shade within the interior of the building. Francine Houben, founder and director of Mecanoo told the Guardian, "the interior is designed to create surprises and stimulate the senses." All photos by Christian Richters.