Saon Mathew combines positive attitude and 20 years of helping healthcare providers build their visions to lead Legat Architects’ wellness practice.
More than two years ago, a healthcare provider gave Saon Das Mathew a challenge: expand and renovate eight clinics within a 25-year-old, three-story medical office building. The goal was, in short, to modernize, upgrade, and make everything fit in an efficient manner. After several phases and renovations to 85% of interior spaces, the building not only houses all eight clinics but also celebrates the healthcare system’s brand.
Such a project is par for the course for Mathew. For nearly 20 years, she has helped healthcare providers expand services, improve efficiencies, and, according to coworker Steve Blye, “makes things fit and work well.” This experience, along with Mathew’s optimistic outlook, has propelled her appointment to director of wellness at Legat Architects.
The position requires her to oversee all the firm’s healthcare projects for quality, budget, and schedule. Mathew also joins fellow healthcare designers Blye and Derek Dunn in seeking new project opportunities. She will continue to manage many of the firm’s healthcare projects.
“Saon’s professionalism and skills are always on display, whether she’s combining complex concepts into a floor plan with proper adjacencies and circulation, putting together a set of drawings that clearly communicate the design to contractors, or visiting a construction site,” said Blye. “And throughout all of this, she maintains a calm and lively approach.”
An Early Discovery in Mumbai
Most architects decide they want to pursue the profession sometime in high school or after. Mathew knew when she was a sixth-grader in Mumbai, India. Her father, who noted her strong memory for spaces and her knack for imaging things in three dimensions, mentioned the profession to her.
“He said if you like doing all these things, architecture is a natural way to go,” she said. “Ever since then, I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else.”
Mathew went on to attend the University of Mumbai’s prestigious Sir J. J. College of Architecture, where she earned her Bachelor of Architecture. Established in 1913, it is the oldest architectural school in Asia and consistently ranked the best architecture college in India.
“Saon’s professionalism and skills are always on display, whether she’s combining complex concepts into a floor plan with proper adjacencies and circulation, putting together a set of drawings that clearly communicate the design to contractors, or visiting a construction site. And throughout all of this, she maintains a calm and lively approach.”Steve Blye,
The Path to Healthcare Design
During her undergraduate studies, Mathew began to lean toward healthcare architecture. She enjoyed the challenge of designing spaces to meet the needs of three distinct user groups: patients, family members/caregivers, and employees.
In the early 2000s, Mathew immigrated to the U.S., where she attended Texas A&M University and earned a Master of Architecture with a specialization in healthcare design.
She spent the next 15 years helping healthcare providers expand services and improve efficiencies while at a Chicago-based international healthcare design firm. The portfolio she built included projects ranging from master plans and medical office buildings to a women’s center and a 275,000-square-foot bed pavilion expansion.
Reconnecting With a Former Coworker
Mathew’s former coworker (while at another firm) Steve Blye, a member of the healthcare team at Legat, introduced her to the firm early in 2019. In April of that year, she joined Legat’s Oak Brook studio and its growing healthcare team.
Since then, Mathew has played a key role in many prominent projects. One of the first Legat projects she managed was the conversion of a 120-year-old building that once housed a bank into Northwestern Medicine’s Dermatology Geneva clinic. The project, featuring a distinctive lobby ceiling and porcelain tile floors and walls, captures the organization’s brand and creates a boutique atmosphere consistent with Geneva’s downtown. It even retains some of the original bank’s highlights. The old vault, for instance, became a meeting room, the entry of which features the original vault door.
Another groundbreaking project led by Mathew was a pandemic preparedness renovation of an ICU at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital. The project, which began amid the COVID-19 pandemic, minimizes hospital-borne infections while supporting staff efficiency and patient comfort.
Positive Attitude, Versatile Skills
Coworkers consistently mention their appreciation of Mathew’s positive attitude and her ability to balance the design, technical, and business sides of architecture.
“Saon’s easygoing nature sets a tone of honesty and straightforwardness that inspires trust among clients, consultants, and colleagues,” said coworker Nick Frey.
Tyler Wade of Legat’s Oak Brook studio added, “If a project encounters a hurdle, Saon’s positive energy helps shape the conversation toward a resolution. She truly cares about her clients and takes the time to make sure they understand their project and take ownership.”
Mathew has also influenced future generations of architects. University of Kansas architecture student Lauren Maloney will soon start her second internship at Legat.
“Saon is a big reason I decided to return to Legat this summer,” said Maloney. “She’s made me feel welcome since my first day. She always takes the time to check in with me to see how I’m doing with work, school, and in general.”
Mathew has spent roughly half her life in India and the other half in the U.S. She said that although architecture in both the East and the West boils down to the same focus on efficiency, function, and aesthetics, it’s the approach that differs. Mathew draws from both cultures — it all depends on the situation at hand.
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