Opportunity builder: Erik Andersen

Feb 13, 2022

Senior principal at Lamar Johnson Collaborative (Chicago, IL), a full-service design and architecture firm committed to enhancing the quality of the human experience.

By Liisa Andreassen

Andersen and LJC are collectively committed to working to enhance the quality of the human experience and to improving how design and architecture can impact each individual’s emotional being. Individually, Anderson has led design efforts on transformational projects for prominent academic medical centers and large healthcare systems across the U.S. and internationally since 1989.

“As architects, we need to think of our clients as partners and build relationships that go beyond singular projects,” Anderson says. “Trust is earned when a relationship is built on sharing knowledge, experience, and design thinking that allows a client to succeed.”

A conversation with Erik Andersen.

The Zweig Letter: I see that you have a great deal of experience in designing educational healthcare facilities. Can you tell me about one that your firm worked on recently that really made you excited and share why?

Erik Andersen: The LJC designed a 190,000-square-foot Recreation and Student Center for the University of Health Sciences and Pharmacy in St. Louis, which stands out to me as an exceptional example of a healthcare educational project integrating multiple synergistic programs into a single facility. The project seamlessly fused a wide range of uses, while honoring the critical divisions between quiet study and active collaboration, restful sleep and athletic activity. The project has become the new gateway and center for student activity for this university’s urban campus located in a growing academic medical center. The vibrant, walkable and transit-oriented CWE neighborhood supports the student-oriented building as a model of identity for the campus. A hub of collaborative spaces connected by a vertical landscape of themed stairs integrates diverse programs at the corner in an expression of visible activity. I believe the RAS Center represents a future vision of education in which “program fusion projects” create interdisciplinary and multi-activity environments that attract and retain students and faculty and create vibrant educational communities.

TZL: How much time do you spend working “in the business” rather than “on the business?”

EA: Typically, advancement in a career means more time spent in the business rather than on the business. Our firm encourages a focus on the business and we recognize the experience and talents of seasoned professionals is one of our most valuable offerings to our clients. We mentor our less experienced colleagues and strive to lead by example. Personally, I’m always focused on the business of solving our client’s challenges and delivering successful designs to inspire and exceed expectations.

TZL: Trust is essential. How do you earn the trust of your clients?

EA: As architects, we need to think of our clients as partners and build relationships that go beyond singular projects. Trust is earned when a relationship is built on sharing knowledge, experience, and design thinking that allows a client to succeed. Help clients think strategically about what they are trying to accomplish and then deliver effective solutions flawlessly.

TZL: What role does your family play in your career? Are work and family separate, or is there overlap?

EA: Being an architect is a commitment that requires passion and diligence. For me, there’s always overlap and I am grateful that my family is very supportive of me and my work.

TZL: Diversity and inclusion are lacking. What steps are you taking to address the issue?

EA: As a core LJC philosophy, we actively engage in ongoing inclusion and diversity initiatives creating mentorship structures to advance opportunities for minority individuals, firms, and the communities we work in. A recent example of our commitment to address diversity and inclusion is an Advanced Outpatient Care Center project we are designing for a large health system here in Chicago. Located in a diverse neighborhood for a community that has historically been challenged with healthcare access, the project is a collaboration with our client and the community. Our design team for the project includes genuine partnerships with a number of minority partners, firms that we have collaborated with on multiple projects. For this unique project, we aspire to create a new paradigm for care and community collaboration.

TZL: What benefits does your firm offer that your people get most excited about?

EA: Our LJC team is energized by the integration of our people across the development, design, and construction industry. Additionally, our people are aligned and committed to our LJC vision of inclusivity, diversity, and giving back to our communities. We recently completed a project called PopCourts! which transformed an empty lot into a bright and welcoming public open space in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago. The project, which opened this year, was developed in concert with Mayor Lightfoot’s INVEST South/West initiative. The goal in Austin was to create a sense of place and identity for a community that has limited access to public open space. I believe LJC’s commitment to our community and design excellence is what excites our people the most.

For more information on PopCourts!, click here.

TZL: Overall, what do you think will be the greatest challenge to the architectural industry as a whole, in say, the next five years? How is your firm stepping up to meet the challenge?

EA: I believe clients’ growing expectations for innovation, quality, cost, and schedule will require greater and greater integration across the design and construction industry. Those architectural firms that seek to integrate and provide cross industry-informed and data driven “smart” solutions will succeed. LJC is part of Clayco, one of the country’s largest and most successful full-service, turnkey real estate development, master planning, architecture, engineering, and construction firms. We solve our client’s most complex challenges by leveraging the collective expertise and ingenuity of the best and brightest minds across the development, design, and construction industry.

TZL: Have you had a particular mentor who has guided you – in school, in your career, or in general? Who were they and how did they help?

EA: I’ve had many mentors in my professional career. My greatest mentor, Hank Winkelman, is a visionary healthcare designer who influenced me greatly in my design thinking, my ability to connect with clients, and my relationship with my fellow design colleagues. He is 20 years my senior and now retired, but I still consult with him often as a friend and fellow colleague on the work I do. Hank blessed me with a legacy of collaboration and mentorship that I endeavor to pass on to our up-and-coming designers. My hope is that they, in turn, will pass on that same legacy of mentorship and generous way of being to future generations of architects and designers.

TZL: In one word or phrase, what do you describe as your number one job responsibility?

EA: Relationship and opportunity builder.

TZL: A firm’s longevity is valuable. What are you doing to encourage your staff to stick around?

EA: Our design culture of inclusiveness, collaboration, and entrepreneurial opportunity motivates our staff and creates professional and personal bonds that go well beyond work. 

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