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.

Liesbet Lagae

Liesbet Lagae

Research director, Imec (1975)

Can you describe what you do?

For the last two decades, my career has centred around research – today, I’m Research Director for the Heverlee-based imec, where I have spent many many hours trying to make things work or discussing new ideas for projects. More precisely, what I do is use my expertise in chip technology to create the next era of intelligent medical devices, which will bring the very ill better diagnosis, a larger chance of survival and a better quality of life. I also live in Heverlee, and bike everyday with my three kids to school, creche and finally the imec tower.

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

While other similarly-sized cities have stayed provincial, Leuven has been able to combine the familiarity of a small city with an international grandeur. Whenever I walk through its streets, I’m bound to meet people I know: one day it’s high-school friends, and on the next it might be imec colleagues, former flatmates or Latin Americans I go to dance classes with. Sometimes it’s simply a combination of people, ending up in a spontaneous drink or coffee, conversing in three different languages around a table. The whole world in one City.

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

I was born, educated and found my dream career here, all in the same small patch. Imec attracts brainpower from around the world, and whilst others have to move to Belgium to find the top-notch technology career they are looking for, this is all present in my backyard – something only possible in a city like Leuven where good schools, great universities and fantastic high-tech careers can be found within short distance.

There must be hundreds of urban legends like this, of historical and hidden places that held different functions over the years, and by doing so kept the historical nature of Leuven alive.

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

A lot of young people are choosing to stay on and live in Leuven or neighbouring Heverlee, resulting in housing pricing going through the roof. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to have the means to afford your own house with a garden in your own hometown! Another issue of recent years concerns schools: how is it possible that we aren’t able to provide every child with a spot in his or her chosen high school?

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

I would opt for a walk from the Arenberg Castle, through the Groot Begijnhof beguinage, to Grote Markt – with plenty of stops for coffee, ice creams and beers.

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

I recently gave a lecture at Holland College, an old building dating back to 1617. What a surprise it was to discover that this was actually my alma mater, Paridaens high school! The cloister was bought by KU Leuven and reincarnated into a college, quite similar to how it used to be back in the Middle Ages. It hosts a beautiful chapel that was used in the famous movie Daens, as well as the original library. When I was twelve, this was a forbidden section of the school – and now one can freely walk around, meeting and discussing crazy ideas, attending music events and enjoying the beautiful environment. There must be hundreds of urban legends like this, of historical and hidden places that held different functions over the years, and by doing so kept the historical nature of Leuven alive.