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New NWO-I real estate adviser Elisa Meijer likes engaging in dialogue

‘Each building is different and people determine how it is used’

In April this year, architect Elisa Meijer started as the new Strategic Adviser Real Estate Portfolio of NWO-I. Her task is to provide advice about the real estate of the nine NWO Institutes. She sees herself predominantly as a ‘functional’ architect because, as far as she is concerned, her first priority is ensuring that everybody has a pleasant working environment. ‘Of course, you also need to remain within budgets and stick to the planning, but these are not the only things I focus on. My motto is: listen, and ask what I can do for people.’

Elisa was born in Antwerp and studied architecture there, a subject that she grew up with. 'As a child, I used to sit below my father's drawing board. He has a company that calculates the stability of buildings. I often accompanied him on his visits to his building projects. When I started for myself, I did not want to be 'The daughter of' - in Belgium, everybody in the construction world knows my surname. So, I left for the Netherlands and later went to France too.' Elisa worked as an architect in, among other places, Paris, Belgium and the Netherlands. However, the major construction crisis in 2012 forced her to reconsider her career. 'Like many other architects, I lost my job at that time. As a result of my next career move, I became the accommodation adviser at the Faculty of Humanities of Leiden University, where I worked on the new Humanities Campus.'  

Science and society

She really enjoyed working in Leiden, but after more than seven years, she nevertheless decided to make the switch to NWO-I. 'In Leiden, I was mainly a manager of change processes, and I had to generate support and carry out lobby work. I felt a growing need to be more involved in real estate, and wanted more variety in my work. What makes NWO-I so great is that science and society come together here; subjects such as the energy transition, mobility and waste processing, which are important in society, are important at our scientific institutes as well.'

What she finds particularly attractive at NWO-I are the different types of locations, which each have their own expertise. 'There are nine research institutes with many locations, from Yerseke to Groningen, and with unique features such as the fish ponds at NIOZ and the ASTRON telescopes. My job is about far more than just creating a good working environment. It also involves a truly tailor-made approach to the needs of the various laboratories and their equipment.'

Job swap

Meijer has just completed a round of visits to get to know the institutes with the exception of NSCR in Amsterdam, which she plans to visit in October. 'First of all, I want to provide a listening ear for everyone and itemize their main concerns.' Unfortunately, a personal transfer of the tasks by her predecessor Maarten Kruizinga was not possible: 'He had already left four months before I started the job this spring'. However, they do have regular email contact with each other. 'Funnily enough, Maarten went to work for a consultancy firm and he has been hired in by Leiden University to work for the Humanities Campus one day per week. He is therefore working for my old boss, and we help each other with tips.'

Trends in office buildings

Meijer believes that her most important task is ensuring that people have a pleasant workplace. 'Each building is different, and how you use it depends on the people. For example, NIOZ and ASTRON are still mostly located in buildings constructed in the 1970s. How do you ensure that these buildings provide a good working environment despite their age? Finding a balance in this matter poses quite a challenge because everybody has different wishes.' If you ask Elisa about office building trends, she enthusiastically elaborates on this topic. 'Community spaces - places where people can informally meet each other - have been hot for a couple of years now, especially since COVID-19. Being able to continually meet each other at the workplace and thus share knowledge and inspiration has considerable added value, especially for the NWO Institutes.' These days, security has also become an increasingly important issue. 'Buildings are full of security cameras, but not everybody wants to be filmed everywhere. You need to carefully consider how to handle this issue.' Other current developments are inclusiveness and diversity. 'Examples are gender-neutral toilets or prayer and quiet rooms. I do not yet know where the institutes stand on these issues. However, I do enjoy providing input about such matters because it makes my work more interesting.'


Meijer's top priority over the next three years is to ensure that all multiannual maintenance plans will be realised. Her predecessor has already produced policy for this, but she will give these policies a different accent. 'I will focus more on the final responsibility of the institutes. I will support and facilitate them, of course, by ensuring that the budget is clear, the required licenses are present, the tasks are clear and that everybody's maintenance contract lists the same activities. However, an institute can decide, for example, to defer the planned painting of their window frames by two years because they feel that it is not necessary yet or because they want to use the money for other things. But then they will also bear the responsibility if after two years it becomes apparent that the window frames are so rotten that they require repairs.'

Climate-neutral in 2030

Elisa is also busy with several other projects, such as the upcoming completion of the renovated Nikhef building. 'The next possible renovation (the CWI building) has also been planned.' Meijer's third priority is increasing the sustainability of buildings. 'NWO-I seeks to be climate-neutral in 2030. You can think of, for example actions in the field of solar energy, lighting and insulation, but also the personnel policy (for example sustainable travel and the reuse of coffee cups). Some institutes have made more progress in that area than others have; for example, new buildings have solar panels and thermal energy storage systems. However, these plans are still in their infancy. Sustainability is a broad term, and it also requires a change in culture. For example, perhaps we need to have more vegan options in the catering, or perhaps it should no longer be the case that people automatically fly to the US for a conference. And within the Netherlands, it should become standard for people to travel by public transport and not by car.' As a member of the NWO-I Office management team, Elisa thinks she needs to give a good example: 'I nearly always travel by train for my work.'

Broad set of responsibilities

Besides her role as real estate adviser, Meijer is also Head of Accommodation and Facilities at the Office of NWO-I in Utrecht. In that role, she is also responsible for everyday inconveniences such as malfunctioning entry passes and coffee machines that do not work. 'Yes, I do have a broad set of responsibilities,' she laughs, 'but that last role is just a small part of my work. Fortunately, I will soon receive support from an extra employee.'

Her working week starts with a day working from home on Monday when she answers all email and prepares meetings. On Tuesday, Meijer is in Utrecht for the management team meetings and to confer with her immediate colleagues. On Wednesday and Thursday, she travels all over the Netherlands to visit the institutes. 'Depending on the subject, I maintain contact with both the institute managers and the local real estate managers.' Her working week punctually ends each Friday by noon. 'Then I am expected on the tennis court for my tennis lesson, which is a great way to end my working week.'

Who is Elisa Meijer

Elisa lives in Leiden with her Scottish husband and teenage son and daughter. She notes that Dutch culture is very different from Belgian culture, but she does not experience that as a problem thanks to her considerable flexibility. 'However, I must admit that I'm still no fan of the frugal Dutch lunch.'

Tekst: Elke Veldkamp

Newsletter Inside NWO-I, October 2023
You can find the archive of the newsletter Inside NWO-I on the NWO-I website.



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