Patrick Leahy – director of planning, research & innovation – healthcare studio & strategy team at Holland Basham Architects

What drew you to your particular field?

When I was young, in college, and I found out more about it, what I liked about it is that it was always changing, the multiple skill sets, and a complexity that would continue to challenge and stimulate me. I thought, Good, this won’t be the same-old, same-old every day…it’s going to be a variety of things, it’s going to keep changing.

Now it’s even more than that. I have the ability to improve people’s lives. 

What has changed most over the years in your particular field?

In the last 25 years, it’s been technology that’s become part of what we do. We do so much more with computers, we have 3-D printers now, environmental responsibility and sustainability has been a huge change. And even more in the last five or ten years, Lean planning in the family of Six Sigma. Rapid prototyping…EDAC, which stands for evidence-based design accreditation and certification, it’s mostly for healthcare and came out of healthcare treatment, but looking at evidence of what really works, we’re not doing things just that are beautiful but really improve the outcome for patients. Another one has been Charrette (collaborative process) planning; there’s actually a National Charrette Institute that will train you to be a Charrette facilitator and planner.

To do any kind of major project well, you have to do comprehensive, strategic and facility planning. It’s the business as well as the buildings and the parking and the spaces in between them…It’s getting the right team put together but it’s also that everybody on the team realizes how important everybody else is so we think of every aspect.  

Where do you turn for design inspiration?

I love to connect to nature personally. My perfect building wouldn’t be more than three or four stories tall so you could actually see trees and landscape outside and be able to open windows. There are great things in nature you can look at for innovative solutions to environmental challenges. 

And the other thing I do is learn from different buildings, what’s been done and what’s great and try to do it in an even better way and take it one step further. 

Why do aesthetic qualities matter as much as practical qualities in design?

We need to inspire people…If it doesn’t uplift the spirit, we really haven’t done anything out of the ordinary. Good architecture is all about creating that experience; the lighting, the feel, not just the value and return on investment. 

What are the benefits of good design?

Good design does not cost more money. Often it can cost less, especially operationally and maintenance and cost-wise…It’s about brand, improving the bottom line and profits and happy more productive staff or guests, or students or patients, or whatever your building type has. People do better or come back often to great places.

What are the primary influences on design in Omaha?

Omaha By Design, Connie Spellman runs it right now. Wonderful program, what it’s doing. Design Alliance Omaha, and this sub-thing they do, Pecha Kucha Night, it’s from the Japanese word that means chit-chat. Another one is AIA (American Institute of Architects) Omaha Chapter. Design firms, enlightened clients. Metropolitan Community College; I was on that board and helped them get their first comprehensive strategic plan. 

There’s also these great preservation groups that keep the best of the old. 

And then the University of Nebraska College of Architecture. That’s where I got my education. 

What are some classic examples of good design locally?

Union Station, I worked on restoration. Joslyn Art Museum, I worked on the addition and restoration there, too. The capitol/Central High School, St. Cecilia’s Cathedral and the Gold Coast neighborhood. The 1891 public library. The 1889 Omaha National Bank building and New York Building. The Burlington Station, not the one that’s there now, the 1898 original design by Thomas Kimball. 

What are some good examples of contemporary design locally?

Midtown Crossing…it created a destination where the community comes together. Village Pointe, a great little commercial development. The Holland Performing Arts Center. SAC Federal Credit Union headquarters. Mammel Hall. The Community Engagement Center, what goes on inside is just a really great space. 

Where do you see Omaha’s design aesthetic going?

I think part of it is individual voices—designers, community leaders, property owners, the clients—and several complementary organizations working together to preserve and improve urban spaces. 

There’s always going to be some high-end design award winners, some aesthetically excellent and some are exceptional at solving functional challenges in a budget and on schedule, and the best do all of these. But there is this third category of creating not just warm, dry space that costs the same with no inspiration, but create spaces that inspire. A creative architect and their team can make all the difference. 

How do the different design disciplines interact? 

Everybody brings specialized skills, and it’s best when they complement each other and have a shared vision. 

What do you wish non-designers knew about design?

I love this question. Good design takes longer than a 30-minute HGTV episode. People see that and they say, “Wow they do this in five minutes and they build it in 20 minutes.” Those computer renderings alone take a couple of days, and somebody else does them. But it’s getting faster all the time and pretty soon we’ll just have gloves where you can create a three-dimensional space by waving our hands. I saw a YouTube video on that once, but it’s not real yet.

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