Francine Houben is a Founding Partner and Creative Director of Mecanoo Architecten. With her practice, she has gained international acclaim. Her work ranges from theatres, museums and libraries to neighbourhoods, housing and parks. Each design is founded on observation of people, location, culture and climate. This analysis amounts to designs that respond to current needs yet are also prepared for (un)predictable change.
Selected works include Delft University of Technology Library, Delft (1997), La Llotja Theatre and Congress Centre, Lleida, Spain (2008), Library of Birmingham, United Kingdom (2013), Bruce C. Bolling Municipal Building, Boston, United States (2015) and National Kaohsiung Center for the Arts, Taiwan (2018). Currently, she is working on the renovation of the New York Public Library and the central library of Washington, DC – designed by Mies van der Rohe.
After a three-year transformation by Mecanoo, working in close collaboration with OTJ Architects, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library (MLKL) was re-opened in 2020, reborn as a contemporary lifelong-learning hub which reaches out to all communities.
The library, which opened in 1972, was the only library designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, one of the twentieth century’s greatest architects, and was subsequently named after Dr. King, the towering civil rights leader who was assassinated in 1968.
About the modernization of the building Francine Houben says: “We have been guided by Martin Luther King’s timeless values and implemented them in this, the most important library for the people of America’s capital.”
The transformation of MLKL brings a new, humanistic environment at all levels, designed and programmed for the future. Amenities include a public roof garden, a theatre, signature staircases and a suite of community studios and workshops.
A central objective of the new design, as Houben explains, is “to highlight the library’s social gathering purpose and its strong presence as a social landmark in the city.” The design approach balances the very different legacies of Mies van der Rohe and Dr King.
For the interior design of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, Francine selected Marmoleum. With its ‘modern timeless values’ Marmoleum connects in a natural way with the building and its classic timeless furniture designed by Eames and Mies van der Rohe.
To give each floor its unique identity various Marmoleum colours are used. On the A level and on the first floor, in the Children's Library Marmoleum Sahara was installed for its warm and agreeable radiance.
For the Grand Reading room, a space for reading and concentrating, the deep brownish red Marmoleum Henna was selected. The research library on the 3rd floor has a Marmoleum Serene Grey floor installed, providing a more neutral business-like backdrop.
Apart from its material expression and colour identity, other aspects of Marmoleum are explored by Francine. In one specific area of the MLKL, Marmoleum is used to tell a story. To admit more light in the space, some of the original walls were removed and with the addition of a minimalistic and simple Marmoleum floor design, a subtle reference is made to ‘what was once there’, communicating history in an elegant way.
In the interview we hear Francine explaining about how the library comes to life in the evening hours, how the reflection of the warm Marmoleum tones illuminates the space with a soft coloured glow, making the building even more inviting and stand-out in an urban context as a radiating, modernized icon.
Gal Keshet | directing, filming and editing
Gena Haensel | transcription
Simone de Vries | consultancy