A most personable analyst: Legat Architects’ Michael Lundeen achieves three decades of leading influential projects, advancing higher education campuses, and setting an example for emerging architects
In the mid-1980s, Michael Lundeen nearly dropped out of the architectural program at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). “I was struggling with design studio,” he said. “It felt like after every critique, I would have to move in a new direction.”
Lundeen’s thoughts about architecture shifted dramatically thanks to an instrumental professor and a life-changing European study program based in Versailles, France. He not only graduated at the top of his class in 1987, but also became the sole recipient of the AIA Student Award, an honor bestowed by the American Institute of Architects. A month-long exhibit at The Art Institute of Chicago featured Lundeen’s student work.
After three years interning and a four-and-a-half-year stint at a Chicago firm, Lundeen was on the lookout for an architect that used an advanced (at the time) technology called AutoCAD and that would allow him to lead larger projects. A former classmate encouraged him to join Legat Architects. On January 2, 1992, Lundeen walked into Legat’s Waukegan studio to start his first day as project manager. This month, Legat celebrates Lundeen’s 30th anniversary with the firm.
During those three decades, Lundeen has led some of our most prominent projects and helped many colleges chart the course for the future of their campuses … all while mentoring a new generation of architects.
“Michael is someone you can count on to calmly assess a situation and come back with options and recommendations,” said Legat President and CEO Patrick Brosnan. “He’s very analytical and recognizes and appreciates great design; we need people like that.”
Lundeen has dedicated most of his career to the planning and design of higher education buildings, especially community colleges. His portfolio includes more than 100 community college projects totaling over three million square feet. Projects range from multicampus master plans and retrofits to massive, multi-year projects that redefine campuses. Not surprisingly, many college leaders have him on speed dial as their trusted advisor.
Dr. Keith Cornille, president of Heartland Community College, said, “On more than one occasion, I have called Michael to obtain his input on various issues related to the campus. Each time, he has responded, listened closely, and offered solid advice.”
Origins and Office Hopping
While Lundeen was a student in 1984, UIC professor and architect George Hinds hired him to work part time at Hinds’s firm HSW. Lundeen also joined Hinds’s four-man crew racing sailboats on Lake Michigan out of Columbia Yacht Club three days a week. Hinds convinced Lundeen to attend UIC’s Versailles overseas study program in 1985. Not only did that experience propel Lundeen’s love of Italian food, but it also changed his life—he came back to Chicago with a renewed appreciation for architectural history, design, and sketching.
Armed with his degree, Lundeen joined Chicago firm Schroeder Murchie Laya, which continues today as SMNG. There he worked with Kenneth Schroeder, also a UIC professor, mostly on downtown lofts and high-end residences.
Lundeen’s first major project at Legat was the College of Lake County’s 127,000-square-foot Multiuse and Performing Arts Center. He also led projects for school districts in communities like Gurnee and Barrington.
After two years in Waukegan, Lundeen moved to Legat’s Oak Brook studio, where he worked for another two years. There he dove into his first major project for which he was both lead designer and project manager: the new Mokena Elementary School. The large facility built between two existing schools housed 1,500 students. Lundeen relied on his experience with loft buildings to create a circus tent-like cafeteria with exposed trusses.
When Legat moved its Schaumburg studio to the first floor of a high-rise in 1996, the firm asked Lundeen to run the office alongside Alan F. Bombick (1955 – 2016). While Bombick led business development and hiring, projects director Lundeen focused on scheduling and overseeing architecture. His projects during this time included a $50 million dollar addition at Barrington High School, projects at both high schools in Niles Township High School District 219, and nearly 200,000 square feet in additions and renovations at Deerfield High School. He also managed most Harper College projects ranging from washroom upgrades and exterior fixes to renovations for the library and lecture center. Lundeen’s leadership at Harper paved the way for the commission of Legat’s largest higher education project to date: the Avanté Center for Science, Health Careers, and Emerging Technology. He served as project manager for the 288,500-square-foot project that started in 1999 and opened in 2004. At the time, it was the largest community college project under construction in Illinois.
In 2004, Lundeen moved to Legat’s growing Chicago studio, where he remains to this day. It was here that Lundeen’s higher education work went into overdrive. In 2015, he was named a principal of the firm, as well as associate director of higher education. This year, Lundeen joined Legat’s board of directors.
The Unshakable Master Planner
Higher education master plans, which create a roadmap for how campuses and facilities will evolve over 20+ years, require a major effort. The person in charge needs to listen to hundreds of stakeholders, collect a staggering amount of information, determine real (versus perceived) needs, communicate clearly, and above all, figure out what to do with all that input. For many institutions, Michael Lundeen has been that person.
One cannot help but be astonished at the sheer comprehensiveness of Lundeen’s master plans. These documents, often exceeding 150 pages, are filled with photos, text, sketches, calculations, graphs, and charts. Within the plans are everything from current conditions assessments and space utilization analyses to suggested building programs, cost estimates, and design guidelines.
Getting there means spending a great deal of time listening to building users. Imagine leading 15 25-minute meetings a day with for two weeks straight. Each meeting, the interviewer must pay close attention and ask questions based on his audience. This is par for the course with Lundeen.
Those who’ve spent time with Lundeen appreciate his sense of calm and ability to take everything in stride. Brosnan said, “The word that comes to mind when I think of Michael is unshakable. He’s not going to make rash, emotional decisions. Instead, he focuses on the metrics, evaluates a situation, and then comes up with solutions based on his analysis.”
Among the Illinois community colleges that have benefitted from Lundeen’s master planning skills are College of Lake County, Harper College, Heartland Community College, Joliet Junior College, Lake Land College, Moraine Valley Community College, Oakton Community College, and Waubonsee Community College.
Lundeen’s most recent master plan for Heartland Community College (based in Normal, Illinois) required 77 stakeholder interviews and 13 pre-programming workshops. It prepares the college’s three campuses for the next 20 years of growth. Lundeen’s performance on this plan led to the commission of the college’s NZ Energy Agricultural Complex, now in the design phase. This project, led by Lundeen, is on track to achieve net-zero energy certification, meaning the building will produce enough energy to offset annual energy usage.
Unleashing the Lead: Campus-defining Projects
Lundeen also played an important role in Legat’s progression from “local” to “lead” architect on projects that turn the spotlight on higher education campuses. For instance, Legat served as the local architect for the CLC Performing Arts Center and Harper College Avanté Center projects, while another, long-established international firm led the design aspects of the projects.
“It takes strong leadership and collaboration skills mixed with an equal amount of humility to manage these projects with a larger firm leading the design,” said Brosnan. “Michael expertly focused on guiding the success of these projects and didn’t let egos get in the way.”
It was this focus that helped Legat transition into both architect of record and design architect for prominent higher education projects. For instance, after leading a master plan at Joliet Junior College, Lundeen took the reins for the college’s new, 124,000-square-foot Health Professions Center (completed 2013). He then served as project manager for Oakton Community College’s Lee Center for Science and Health Careers (completed 2014), an early adopter of sustainable technologies.
Lundeen’s higher education work is not restricted to community colleges. He has helped win several projects, for example, at the University of Illinois’ Urbana/Champaign campus. He took on project management duties for the university’s Turner Hall modernization that put the spotlight on the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) program.
Today, 25 years after completion of its Multiuse and Performing Arts Center, College of Lake County has called on Lundeen again to lead a pioneering project that transforms a former Lowe’s store into the college’s Advanced Technology Center. The college expects the facility will provide 40% of the skilled labor force in Lake County, Illinois over the next five years.
It’s About the People
What was Lundeen’s most challenging and rewarding project in his 30-year history with Legat? One need look no further than Legat’s own new Chicago studio. Working with a super tight budget and 15 architects who each have ideas about what the studio should be poses quite a few challenges.
Still, Lundeen managed to pull together all the ideas into a design that breathes new life into a tired office setting and resurfaces the architectural charm of a 110-year-old building. This proves that even with his logical style, Lundeen has the people skills needed to achieve consensus.
Lundeen has mentored dozens of architects during his time with Legat. Over the past three years, the Arlington Heights resident has also taken four students under his wing as part of High School District 214’s Center for Career Discovery internship program. The 10-week program exposes the students to the day-to-day lives of professionals in fields they are interested in. Lundeen’s students sat in on meetings with him, heard presentations from coworkers, and participated in a classroom design project for which Lundeen acts as a sounding board.
What many coworkers and clients appreciate about Lundeen is his professorial approach to architecture. Whether he’s talking about what’s going to happen to the 15 buildings on a college campus over the next 20 years or explaining his most recent fine carpentry project, the passion is always there.
Although Lundeen has led hundreds of projects during his career, he would be the first to say he personally accomplished very little by himself. He acknowledges that the success of his projects would not be possible without the contributions of dozens of talented team members.
“Michael has provided an enormous example for others in the firm,” said Jeffrey Sronkoski, Legat principal and director of higher education. “His dedication to clients, staff, problem-solving, and overall excellence is unmatched.”
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