The Leuven Hundreds

Portraits of a city's people, today

We’ve joined forces with Leuven to highlight 100 local people, places and projects that contribute towards making the city what it is today. From artists and architects to producers and professors, these are the driving forces powering Leuven forward one ingenious initiative at a time.

An Tanghe

An Tanghe

Managing director, Health House (1973)

Can you describe what you do?

I’m the Managing Director for Health House, a highly innovative exhibition space and visitor centre that revolves around the future of health and care. This first-of-its-kind exhibition platform features top-quality content, visualisations, experiences and cross-media storytelling. Deploying “the power of digital” in an offline concept, we can flexibly re-program the complete infrastructure, and thus offer visitor-tailored showcases that differ from one visit or event to the next. It’s a concept with which we hope to truly disrupt the prevailing, traditional exhibition hall concept. Health House is based at the Arenberg Research Parc, the first area you come across when leaving the highway, in the shadow of the imec tower. I commute daily from Pellenberg – which could be considered the Leuven countryside – by car. But not until I’ve had breakfast with my family, and made sure my two boys are ready for their day. The science, innovation and entrepreneurial scenes in Leuven have formed my habitat for several years now. I’ve had the opportunity to experience it all from an academic point of view (bridging to industry), a spin-off perspective (university and pharmaceuticals) and an entrepreneurial angle (managing start-up programs and building a community for young, mostly digital health and health-tech entrepreneurs). Interweaving these different networks allows me to make meaningful connections between people, organizations and information – a highly rewarding task to take on.

How do you perceive Leuven?

Leuven has the best of both worlds, the vibe of a City and the intimacy of a village. The University and its student population are both very present during the academic year although this is far from being the only factor determining the bustling atmosphere: Leuven has a flourishing cultural, artistic and creative scene in its own right. The City’s networking and branding initiative Leuven MindGate is making great efforts to interconnect these different local strengths with the entrepreneurial scene and, thanks to this initiative, I got involved in a few future-oriented think-tanks, alongside other key players such as M-Museum and the City of Leuven.

What would you say is Leuven’s main appeal as a city? What gives it its edge?

Leuven holds a unique mixture of centuries-old history with cutting-edge science and technology – not in the least in the domain of health and care, where I’m active. Connecting health and technology with the local creative arts and design scenes is highly promising for Leuven’s future.

How has Leuven contributed to making you who you are today? What role has the city played in shaping your outlook and career?

I’ve only lived in Leuven as a student, and experienced it as a pleasant, safe and bustling student town. Since then, I’ve moved out of the City, specifically to the Leuven countryside, and no longer feel its pulse on a daily basis. However, I now get to enjoy and discover the City from a totally different perspective, which I probably prefer to before – both for work and pleasure. Besides its huge number of cafés, Leuven also has fantastic coffee bars, restaurants, specialty shops and cultural hotspots.

On a personal level, what would you like to see more of in the city? What could it do better?

Some of the City’s urban development plans are quite exciting: the Vaartkom (a former industrial site evolving into a creative hub), the Centrale Werkplaatsen (former industrial workshops currently re-destined for contemporary work and leisure) and the Hertogensite (the hospital site turning into a modern residential district) just to name a few.

Asides from the bricks and mortar, I really hope that Leuven MindGate and the interconnectivity among and between the academic, entrepreneurial and creative scenes will grow. I imagine a series of “cross-dimensional” hotspots in Leuven, where you can meet like-minded individuals and find the same spirit I experienced at a couple of recent Leuven MindGate networking events. During these past few years, I’ve had a laser-sharp focus on getting Health House up and running and occasionally exchanging thoughts with peers and like-minded souls is key in surviving these kind of trajectories.

To you, what is the best way to spend a weekend in Leuven? If you had to take out-of-towners to one place that truly symbolises the city, what would it be?

My favourite means of exploring a City is to select a few must-see spots and, for the most part, wandering around, not shying away from going off-the-beaten track. Cities such as Leuven hide lovely, obscure areas like the Dijlepark or the Keizersberg Abbey. Having said that, after all these years, I’m still impressed by the City’s classical monuments, with the Grand Square and its Gothic City Hall – decorated with an astonishing 236 statues – as well the Groot Begijnhof beguinage.

Fabre embodied a tribute to beauty, science, knowledge into a stunning, life-like, three-meter sized Thai jewel beetle pinned-up by a twenty meter tall needle.

A local legend, neighbourhood anecdote or urban myth that, to you, encapsulates the spirit of the city?

The story behind one of my favourite art works in Leuven: the Totem beetle by Jan Fabre. It was a gift from the University to the City, on the occasion of the former’s 575th birthday. Fabre embodied a tribute to beauty, science, knowledge into a stunning, life-like, three-meter sized Thai jewel beetle pinned-up by a twenty meter tall needle. Not always the easiest sight to explain to business contacts, though, since in some cultures, beetles are considered holy! One of the best spots to admire this unique piece of contemporary art is from M-Museum’s rooftop terrace, especially during the summer.

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