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.

Hanne Vanhaverbeke

Hanne Vanhaverbeke

Events and communications, HAL 5 / Assistant architect, WIT Architecten (1988)

Can you describe what you do?

I’ve been working as an assistant architect at WIT Architecten, based in Leuven, for over six years now. Recently, I was also put in charge of event co-ordination and communication for HAL 5, a new initiative in an old industrial building, situated at the back of the station in Kessel-Lo. Over the next five years, a great variety of partners will build on a wide range of urban activities including food and drinks, sports, society building, creative and sustainable enterprising. Besides that, I’ve also joined the Camping Flamingo team since last year: a small group of friends who organise flea markets and urban yard-sales all over town – the kind of events Leuven has been longing for. It grew from a small experiment on my boyfriend’s front door, to a big and vibrant one-day event taking over quality public spaces like HAL 5, Vaartkom, or, soon to come, the public library. I really love the fact that, in all of these environments, I’m surrounded by people who want to co-create the city – it’s all very inspiring.

How do you perceive Leuven?

Leuven is a small, provincial town with the feeling of a village. There are many different groups – like in any other city – all living next to each other. These “scenes” are so small that they’re constantly bumping into each other all the time though, and (have to) mingle. Having said that, I still don’t get the impression that we know each other that well. Everybody has their own thing going on, their places to go to. For example, Leuven is a student city: chockfull when these temporary residents are in town, and half-empty in holidays when they head back to their hometowns.

Leuven especially appeals to people who were raised or studied here; because of the scale of the city, the proximity of things, and the village-like intimacy.

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

I think Leuven especially appeals to people who were raised or studied here; because of the scale of the city, the proximity of things, and the village-like intimacy. I have to admit though, I don’t feel a real “edge” in Leuven.

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

I did most of my studies outside of Leuven: arts in Hasselt, and applied architecture at Howest in Bruges. Two other Belgian provincial towns, close to the scale found in Leuven. I didn’t have very close friends or family there though, so the desire to return to my hometown after five years was strong. I eventually came back to Leuven to discover all the new things my friends were up to, and what the city now had to offer. A lot has changed during the last couple of years. Since being back, I’ve met so many new and interesting people, making it hard to leave this city again. The dream of moving to a “real” city, like Brussels, kind of vanished because of all the new connections I’ve made with so many different people, and the fresh opportunities that have popped up. And now I’m able to contribute to this city myself, in close connection with all these new figures. I like the fact that this city is a sort of “blank canvas”, with lots still to be done. I love to look towards other cities too, to see what’s going on there and how it’s taking place. I try to get inspired as much as possible and implement this in my personal lifestyle, my apartment, my work environment, … I hope to keep doing this and never get bored, living here in Leuven.

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

An urban feel: things to do in places that already exist, but never really get used or activated. Sometimes it’s so quiet during weekends that it gets kind of creepy. And if something interesting is happening, then literally everybody is at that same place. It’s fun, but it can also be kind of frustrating at the same time. I often explore other cities with my boyfriend, and we always come back with a lot of inspiration. But I’d love to find more inspiration in my own town, not always having to frequent the same few places.

If you had to take out-of-towners to one place that truly symbolises the city, what would it be?

I would take them to Koffie en Staal, a bar run by one of my best friends, for a coffee and breakfast, followed by a visit to HAL 5 for lunch and further on to the Vaartkom where a lot of things are happening right now. Afterwards, a stroll through the city, starting at Mechelsestraat. We’d go for apéro and dinner in Bar Stan of course – which is co-owned by my boyfriend – and afterwards to Cinema ZED, the alternative movie-theatre which I often frequent, or to OPEK where many cultural houses and theatre groups are located. We’d end the night with a beer in Café Commerce, a nice bar where a lot of locals hang out, away from the typical Oude Markt.

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

There are a lot of old beautiful buildings originating from the Stella Artois brewery at Vaartkom. The attraction to this rare, old heritage in our city plays a huge part in Leuvenaars’ collective minds. First year Architecture Masters students at KUL organise an Existenz Week every year, transforming an abandoned site into a revived inspirational meeting point in the city. This week of activities and possibilities should really be facilitated all year long, run by and addressed to locals.