The firm

Kees Lau has run an architect’s office in Leiden for more than thirty years. He started out on his own and gradually expanded into a business with a staff of seven. Since the crisis, he has been on his own again. “Being in total control is the best feeling in the world.”

Foto © Sam Rentmeester . 20160309 . Kees Lau, Architektenbureau Lau, Leiden, Delft Integraal DI // DeZaak

Foto © Sam Rentmeester . 20160309 .
Kees Lau, Architektenbureau Lau, Leiden,
Delft Integraal DI // DeZaak

 

Architectenbureau Lau is based in a historic monumental building on Pieterskerkhof in Leiden. Founder Kees Lau had digs there, and in 1984, while still a student, he started out as a freelance architect. He initially got his work through personal contacts, and his business went from strength to strength.

The premises opposite the Pieterskerk church turned out to be largely responsible for the direction that Lau’s career as an architect would take. From his a prime location opposite the houses built alongside the Pieterskerk, he forged an agreement with the residents that they would come to him if anything needed replacing or repairing. “At that time, I was nervous about working on monumental buildings. You need historical expertise and knowledge of details. How does a sash window work, for example? That’s not the sort of thing they taught you in Delft. So I had to learn as I went along.”

Nowadays, three-quarters of Lau’s work is restoration and the rest is new building work. “It’s good to alternate my work. You see what happens to a window frame in a hundred years, but you also keep abreast of new building techniques.” In Lau’s opinion, new techniques and materials combine nicely with the ambience of monumental buildings. “Let new elements in an old building look new. The contrast brings out the best in both. Messing about with old solutions only makes things less authentic.”

In thirty years, Lau has worked on hundreds of projects: from restoring an old bowling alley to building brand new houses. But there’s no such thing as a real ‘Lau’. “That’s never been my aim. I always say: I’m not HEMA departmentstore, I only do made-to-measure.” He doesn’t intend to leave a landmark legacy of his career either. “I made friends on the projects. That’s my legacy.”

According to Lau, an architect who mainly works for private clients (as he does) must be a sociable person. His first commissions were secured in the pub, where he is still approached regularly about projects. Being sociable also means listening to what your clients want. “You have to learn to read between the lines for each individual client.”

Lau never wanted to run a big office. “Before the crisis, I had about seven people working for me. I could have turned my business into a large-scale operation then, but I didn’t want to. I couldn’t see myself simply as a manager. When the economy collapsed I had to let everyone go. You have to have that sort of flexibility in this business. Being in total control again is the best feeling in the world.”

Name: Kees Lau
Degree programme: Architecture
Company: Lau Architects
Founded in: 1984
Product: Renovation and new building work
Mission: “To give a monumental building  a new lease of life. It only has a right to exist if it is still in use.”
Turnover: € 100,000 per employee
In five years time: “I’ll be doing what I do now.”

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