Legat Architects’ new studio in Iowa City’s renowned “Ped Mall” to emphasize community connections
The first-time visitor to Iowa City’s outdoor Pedestrian Mall will quickly discover its allure—trees and gardens enliven a brick pathway, music drifts from five “street pianos,” comforting aromas waft from outdoor food carts and restaurants. And whether a visitor’s taste buds crave a great burger, authentic Indian food, or sushi, delicious options are just footsteps away.
One of the most noticeable features of the “Ped Mall,” located next to the University of Iowa, is the variety of people that energize it day and night. Legat Architects’ President and CEO Patrick Brosnan first experienced the mall in 2012 when visiting college campuses with his son. “At city centers near other college campuses, we rarely saw people younger than 18 or older than 50,” he said, “but Iowa City stood out with its diverse setting that unites families, businesses, and students.”
Not only has his son since graduated from the university, but Brosnan and fellow Legat leaders were so impressed by Iowa City’s sense of community that they opened a new studio within the Ped Mall. The studio, located within the MERGE Iowa City building at 136 South Dubuque Street, faces an outdoor stage and the Weatherdance Fountain, a summertime favorite among children.
The decision to open the Iowa City studio also stems from Legat’s growing eastern Iowa workload—in the nine years since it opened its Quad Cities studio in Moline, Illinois, Legat has seen its Iowa-based client count grow from zero to more than 20. Project highlights include two new schools in Bettendorf and new headquarters for Ascentra Credit Union and RiverStone Group.
Midwest Expansion: Architecture Is a Local Sport
Often, architecture firms open a “local” studio with no intention of increasing its employees—the studio merely serves as a “face” to strum up local business, but all the work is produced in other, out-of-town studios. Legat has avoided this expansion model, instead opting to become a community partner.
“Architecture is a local sport,” said Brosnan. “We’ve found that when employees live where they work, there’s a greater commitment. It’s a grass roots approach—we want to be there, collaborating and growing with the community. Building owners who work with architects with close community ties feel the difference.”
This isn’t the first time Chicago-based Legat has opened regional studios. Nearly 30 years ago, it began to open and develop studios around Chicagoland. In 2012, it launched its Quad Cities studio in Moline, Illinois, 60 miles east of Iowa City. Five years later, Legat bought out a partnership to launch its Columbus, Ohio studio. Both locations began with one person and a handful of projects, but soon expanded to become thriving studios with strong local bonds.
As with its other studios, the firm plans to build the Iowa City studio “from the ground up,” according to Brosnan, by hiring Iowa architects to ensure that they and their families have a sense of connection to the community.
Brosnan said, “If all that mattered was the bottom line, we’d be doing something different, but we’re employee owned. This is about investing in long-term success, not short-term profitability.”
John Gabrielson: An Iowa Mainstay
At the helm of Legat’s new Iowa City studio is lifelong Iowan John Gabrielson, a licensed architect with more than 15 years of experience. Gabrielson grew up in Fort Madison (population 10,500), a southeast Iowa city along the Mississippi River. His architectural portfolio ranges from corporate office and mixed-use facilities to preK-12 and higher education structures (including several University of Iowa projects). As the new studio’s director, the Iowa State University grad will chart a course to grow Legat’s presence in eastern Iowa and beyond.
Brosnan said, “John proved to be the ideal candidate for the position—he specializes in design, but he understands how to communicate with clients and get projects built and built with quality.”
Gabrielson, his wife, and their five children live 10 minutes from the new studio. “I have lived in other cities and traveled the world,” said Gabrielson. “Iowa City has a unique excitement and energy that make it one of the greatest cities around, plus its inclusion of people of many nationalities, ages, sexual orientations, and religions enables us all to broaden our perspectives and experiences. When Legat offered me this opportunity, I jumped at the chance to not only join with a great company, but also to grow a studio in the community I call home.”
Invested in Future of Iowa City
Legat’s new studio, located in the MERGE Iowa City coworking facility, uses both shared and rented private spaces. Operating out of this “hub for innovation in downtown Iowa City” allows Legat to connect with local entrepreneurs and strengthen its relationship with the Iowa City Area Business Partnership located in the same building.
Legat leaders also plan to align the firm’s focus on energy-efficient buildings with Iowa City’s sustainability goals. According to the Accelerating Iowa City’s Climate Actions report, the city aims to reduce citywide carbon emissions 45% by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions (i.e., negating greenhouse gas emissions when energy used by the city equals the amount of energy created) by 2050.
“With its focus on everything from family values and environmental health to arts and education, Iowa City has established itself as the quintessential Midwestern city,” said Brosnan. “This is a place we want to be.”
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