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Elisa Meijer: ‘I grew up under the drawing board’

Architect Elisa Meijer is the face of the Humanities Campus. She knows all the buildings, from the Reuvensplaats to the Matthias de Vrieshof, like the back of her hand. In her role as Housing Adviser she has now spent more than three years dealing with everything necessary for the development of a new campus.

The campus and the residents of the Doelencomplex

‘Why did we initiate the Humanities Campus project? The buildings are really out of date – they have a lifespan of about 40 years, which gives them until 2020. Our faculty has grown, and is still growing, so there’s a need for more space. We want to design the new campus to include a large central square with a lot of greenery. The design includes a new main building where the Doelensteeg residential complex is now. The people currently living in the complex will be offered alternative accommodation in the centre of Leiden. The Municipality of Leiden is consulting with the residents to find a suitable solution. We’re very conscious that this is their home, and that moving house will have a big impact on them. That’s hard; I feel for them.’

A brief overview of the Humanities Campus 
The Faculty of Humanities is growing. To make sure all our staff and students have enough space going forward, we are working hard to set up a Humanities Campus. This campus will have a large, green central square and lots of facilities that will make it easier for people to collaborate and interact with each other. Find out more about the Humanities Campus project.

Spread your wings

‘I grew up in Antwerp. When I was little I loved to draw, and I enjoyed designing my own clothes. I was also interested in the world of construction; I had a lot of experience of that world, because my father ran an engineering firm from home. Belgium has more of a culture of networking, lunches and parties than the Netherlands, and I got involved in that at an early age. After I finished secondary school I studied Architecture in Antwerp. I like the technical side of the profession best: budgets, technical descriptions and specifications. In Belgium you have to do a two-year work placement as part of your studies. Thanks to my father’s work, I knew all the architects in and around Antwerp – I could have found a placement anywhere, because they knew me as my father’s daughter. But I didn’t want to do that; I wanted to make my own way, so I sent letters to all the architects’ firms in Delft and eventually found a placement there. I needed to spread my wings and leave home.’

People person

‘Before the construction crisis happened, I worked for several different architects’ firms both in the Netherlands and abroad. In 2012 I was let go and had to look for different work. I applied for a temporary position, making functional descriptions for things like pantries for the new campus in my current department (IT and Facilities). I also got the chance to develop a vision for the Arsenaal at that time. Then I heard they were looking for someone to coordinate the Humanities Campus project for the faculty. They needed someone who could represent the faculty’s requirements and wishes to other players such as the Real Estate Directorate and the Municipality of Leiden, and someone who could also create broad support for the project. My job is to act as the link between the various bodies involved: I make recommendations about where everyone will be located once the project is finished, about interim relocations and where we can put lecture halls and workspaces while the work is ongoing. I talk to a lot of people, and I regularly attend consultation meetings to give a presentation about the developments surrounding the Humanities Campus. I have to make sure that the wishes and requirements of the faculty are incorporated into the various sub-projects. I’m a doer rather than a dreamer. I take a practical approach: I look at what works, what’s important to the people who will have to use the buildings. Then I share those recommendations with the various advisers for the Campus.

International family

‘I met my husband, who is from Scotland, through my sister, who was still living in the Netherlands at the time. We ended up going to Paris together for his work. Our two children were born after we came back to live in the Netherlands, and they have Belgian nationality. Brexit is a hot item in our family. There’s a lot of uncertainty about what’s going to happen. We still don’t know what the consequences will be for my husband in the long term, when he claims his pension. He left Scotland as a young man. We feel European, and that’s how we’re raising our children: we are one Europe. We live in an international community here, and we do our best to emphasise that everyone is equal.

In the Humans of Humanities series, we will do a portrait of one of our researchers, staff members or students, every other week. Who are they, and what do they do? You can find more portraits and information on this page.

Femke Wouters
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