Care at the core: Legat Architects’ longstanding healthcare practice prepares for decades to come with new leadership team
When Casey Frankiewicz joined Legat Architects in 1981, the firm had never done a healthcare project. Forty years later, the firm ranks in Building Design + Construction’s Top 100 Healthcare Sector Architecture Firms in the U.S. Frankiewicz, who spent the latter half of his career at Legat leading the firm’s healthcare practice, is largely responsible for developing the firm’s reputation in that segment.
During Frankiewicz’s time at the helm, the practice’s portfolio grew from mostly senior living facilities and medical office buildings to complex hospital projects ranging from imaging centers and emergency departments to intensive care units and special care nurseries. Several of the Chicago area’s largest healthcare systems retain Legat Architects as a trusted advisor.
After leading hundreds of healthcare projects, Frankiewicz retired on October 15, 2021. Get the full story on his retirement. Frankiewicz will pass the torch to three veterans in the healthcare design industry:
- Derek Dunn, a coworker of Frankiewicz’s for 25 years and a healthcare planner/designer/project manager, takes on the role of Regional Healthcare Director for Chicago, its north and northwest suburbs, and for the Quad Cities of Illinois and Iowa.
- Saon Mathew, who earned her master’s degree with an emphasis on healthcare design, assumes the role of Regional Healthcare Director for Chicago, its west and south suburbs, and east to the Columbus, Ohio region.
- Director of Healthcare Design Steve Blye, an architectural and interior designer his entire career and recipient of the national HFSE award for lifetime achievement in healthcare design, continues in his role elevating every healthcare project to the optimum level of design.
“Casey set the foundation for our role in the healthcare design industry,” said Legat President and CEO Patrick Brosnan. “I am confident that Derek, Saon, and Steve will reinforce that reputation with the technical proficiency, design talent, and people skills that are critical in an industry that impacts everyone.”
Each member of the leadership trio has built their reputation by working closely with clients. That will not change—all three will continue devoting most of their time to projects, while taking on some responsibilities for marketing and business development, as well as mapping the strategic direction of Legat’s healthcare segment.
Frankiewicz said, “These three are passionate about what they do when it comes to healthcare design and delivery, but their first priority is always to provide the highest quality of service to our clients.”
Quiet, Attentive, and Detail-oriented
Coworker Nick Frey remembers visiting a building construction site with Derek Dunn to review exterior brickwork.
“It was the dead of winter, the sun had set, windchills were in the teens, and most of the construction team had left,” said Frey, “but Derek wouldn’t rush through his inspection. He found some issues that needed correction.”
This story exemplifies Dunn’s dedication to ensuring that the construction carries through the design intent and gives the client the highest quality product.
“One of the first things people notice about Derek is that he’s quiet,” said Frankiewicz of Dunn, who joined Legat after graduating from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1996. “That’s because he’s so attentive. He asks insightful questions and truly listens to the answers.”
Additionally, having led more than 200 healthcare projects, Dunn has developed strong relationships with state organizations like the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH). These relationships, coupled with what Frey calls “an encyclopedic understanding of healthcare architecture,” results in smoother projects with fewer obstacles.
“Derek has been a trusted member of our Project Management team for the last three years,” said Allen C. Jensen, executive director, facilities management at Northwest Community Healthcare. “In this time, he has designed and facilitated new comprehensive services within the Nuclear, Hybrid/Cardiac/Vascular, and Imaging labs of the main hospital. We appreciate his attention to detail, ability to work with our diverse teams, and an inclusive dialogue with internal service providers.”
Saon Das Mathew:
Methodical Planner, Thoughtful Designer
Saon Mathew took a healthcare track when pursuing her Master of Architecture degree at Texas A & M University. It gave her a head start in addressing the technical and aesthetic challenges unique to healthcare projects.
Mathew, the newest member of Legat’s healthcare team, joined the firm in 2019 after 15 years at a prominent healthcare firm where she also worked with Steve Blye.
“In the nearly three years she’s been here, Saon has elevated the design quality and detailing of our healthcare projects,” said Frankiewicz. “Not only is she methodical with her solutions, but also shows respect for all stakeholders from administrators and clinicians to patients and their families.”
Mathew has repeatedly proven her ability to guide complex, multiphase projects that require reviving spaces without impeding departmental activities. Most recently, she led a five-phase maternity unit renovation that improves staff workflow and the patient experience. Her team even researched cruise ship layouts to create more space in bathrooms. When staff told Mathew a medication room was too small, she found a way to expand it into a corridor niche that was relocated. The maternity unit remained operational throughout construction.
Brian Kane, project executive with Skender, said, “I have worked with Saon for over eight years. Her technical expertise, collaboration, humility, and willingness to listen and work for the greater good of the project set her apart. She willingly and openly engages with all members of the project team with the end goal in mind of doing what is best for the clients and the patients they serve.”
During a recent medical office build-out, coworker Audrey Blankenship would call Mathew “at all hours of the night” while they were working. “She was always willing to take the time to not only answer my question, but also make sure she was communicating clearly and I had the direction I needed. She’s been an incredible mentor.”
An Uncommon Healthcare Designer
When Legat entered a design competition for University of Illinois Hospital’s new Welcome Atrium, its team turned to Steve Blye for a design element that would set the entry apart. Blye’s idea was an upper level “contemplation space” that appears to float above the atrium and serves as a respite, chapel, consultation room, and other similar uses. The submission won the competition and the UI Health Welcome Atrium is now under construction.
This is just one of many examples of how Steve Blye, lead designer behind some of the Chicago area’s most prominent healthcare projects in recent years, has advanced Legat’s healthcare designs since he joined the firm in 2013.
A recent cancer center expansion designed by Blye features a linear accelerator vault with several features that help comfort patients: a backlighted nature graphic to bring artificial daylight into the room, wood tone materials to create a welcome feeling, and a stone-face wall to reinforce a nature theme. Additionally, the curving exterior canopy that welcomes patients creates a forward-thinking image critical for this branch of healthcare.
Blye stands out as a healthcare designer for a few key reasons. First, during his nearly 40 years in the industry, he has learned to gather input from all stakeholders, ranging from executives to maintenance staff. Additionally, according to Frankiewicz, “Steve doesn’t latch on to a preconceived idea of what he thinks a design should be. Instead, he lets the design evolve based on client input.”
Another way that Blye diverges from some designers: he’s not the type to design something, then pass it off to a production team to figure out all the details. If a curved soffit is important, Blye will draw the details so nothing gets lost. He prides himself on taking his designs through the ribbon cutting and beyond.
Finally, healthcare providers who experience a design charrette with Blye come out feeling exhilarated about their projects. Blye rolls up his sleeves, asks questions, sketches ideas, and builds excitement.
Three Personalities, Many Benefits
Those who meet with the members of Legat’s new healthcare leadership team discover three very different personalities. One member (Derek Dunn) is quiet and unassuming. Another (Steve Blye) is intense and highly animated. The third (Saon Mathew), falling somewhere between the other two, is upbeat and congenial. And yet, combining their talents, they offer healthcare providers a strong knowledge of the nuts and bolts of healthcare projects, as well as the foresight to advise on where the industry is headed.
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