The expat top-10 aims the spotlight on the internationals that help Eindhoven progress. E52 sat down with each winning expat to talk about their experiences and perspective on the city they once came to, and never got away from. Today: Bert Blocken, professor at the Technical University Eindhoven.
Bert Blocken was born in Hasselt (1974), he finished studying at the University of Leuven in 1998. He did research in Montreal before he went to the TU/e, now ten years ago. Since 2011 he is professor in Building Physics, with special interest for issues in Urban Physics and Wind and Engineering. Blocken developed the first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) for the University. Also he likes to broaden his activities in the aerodynamics of sports.
´The ambition to attract more foreign talent to the university is really appealing to me´
“To be honest I didn’t know the TU/e that well, I was in Canada and tried to attain a position in the Flemish region, but there was no direct spot available at that time. Jan Hensen made me aware of the strong building physics unit, he was trying to expand. It suited me well, I really like it here. Especially the vision of Hensen to attract more foreign talent appealed to me. That and the really good collaboration with my colleagues.”
“Every now and then I get job offers from Universities abroad, but I have a large research group of 32 persons, I can’t leave them behind, can I? That’s a responsibility I really feel. I have enough things to do here.”
‘I came to know Eindhoven as a really nice and compact city’
“Everything here is on walking or cycling distance. Also the campus is close to the center, that’s sometimes quite different abroad, where it is not uncommon that universities are located far away from the city center. It’s nice that after a long day of work, I can take colleagues from abroad to the city center for a meal.
“But what mainly keeps me here are the dynamics and the ambition of the university. There is a lot possible here. At the end of the year the new wind tunnel at the campus is ready, foreign colleagues are a bit jealous I can say. These dynamics partly have their origin in the relatively small university, concentrated on engineering. That makes communication and decision making a lot easier.
But also outside of the university there is a lot of cooperation to be found, there are many companies in the region that want to innovate and want to move forward and benefit from collaborating with us. The ambitious attitude at the university, always wanting to get better, scoring high on rankings, in combination with the many collaborations in the region: that’s what really counts.”
‘In fact improving the city should already start with the design of buildings’
“Look for example at this building (Vertigo building at the TU/e), it’s been renovated in the late ‘90s. Of course it looks great with all the glass. But in the summer the airco has a hard job keeping the place at a nice temperature. There is some sort of awning, but that’s mainly for not getting blinded by the sun. The design is everything except sustainable.”
“Right now we are working on a case how to design a city in such a way that there are fewer casualties during a heatwave. It is possible to place aircos everywhere, but that’s really counterproductive. The airco is cooling the air in the building, but at the same time hot air is being blown outside. Which results in even higher temperatures. My professor in Leuven stated that if buildings in our climate need airco, they are badly designed. The thing I really advocate for are rules for architects and designers that force them to take these kind of things into account. But that’s a hard thing to accomplish because the building sector is a conservative one.”
‘A child at the age of six can tell you the way in English here’
“The international mix is good here. Dutch people are really welcoming. Of course I’ve not been everywhere in the world, but I’ve seen a lot. But the welcoming mentality of the Dutch I’ve never encountered in another culture. Maybe it has something to do with the Dutch being a travelers nation, I’m not sure. But it foreigners are always being well received. The level of tolerance is a nice atmosphere to work in.”
“I really had to laugh when I heard that I was nominated for the expat top 10: me, an expat, are you sure? I’m already half Dutch. Not only because of the culture of Brabant and Belgian Limburg are much alike, but also because I’ve been here for so long. So I didn’t suffer from a real culture shock. The only thing I needed to get used to were some expressions like: ‘on that bike’ [op die fiets]. I did take that literally in the beginning. But that’s nothing big.”
Friday, E52 will feature an interview with another expat from the list. Read all the articles in the series on Expats in Eindhoven here.