Luke Leyden


The assistant director and chief architect at the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics (Iowa City, Iowa) talks about his first project, learning to use design to improve patients’ experience, and the story behind a prized limbo trophy on his desk

What drew you to a career in healthcare design?

I have always been fascinated by healthcare specifically because of the rapid advancements in technology and treatments. I am also continually amazed and challenged by the diverse types of spaces and how designers are required to continually adjust from working on very complex, technical spaces in imaging departments to creating calming, fun, and engaging pediatric spaces.

What was your first healthcare project?

The 200,000-square-foot Pomerantz Family Pavilion West addition on the University of Iowa Hospital & Clinics main campus. The lower level held radiation oncology, and the upper floors were shell space for future buildout. I led a project years later to fit out several of those floors with exam rooms and chemotherapy infusion spaces for oncology.

What lesson from that project do you still carry with you today?

That it’s our responsibility to help advocate for the patients and their experience. For this project, backlit glass artwork was carefully chosen and installed in the ceiling above the linear accelerators to give patients a calming distraction during their treatment. On all the projects I work on, I still try to view things from the patient’s perspective and develop ways to improve their experience, from working on a wayfinding master plan to aid patients and their families as they traverse our large campus to small, respite areas with exterior views outside of patient rooms.

Three recent healthcare projects and your role

1 University of Iowa Hospital & Clinics (UIHC) North Liberty at Forevergreen Road campus, Iowa City, Iowa, owner’s architect.

2 UIHC inpatient tower, Iowa City, owner’s architect.

UIHC Stead Family Children’s Hospital NICU shell floor fit out3 UIHC Stead Family Children’s Hospital NICU shell floor fit out, Iowa City, owner’s architect.



What do you like best about working in healthcare design?

I recognize that for some people in our hospital, they may be experiencing the most difficult time in their lives, so being able to design spaces that can assist in healing and make their experience better is very rewarding.

What challenges about your work keep you up at night?

Our institution is rapidly growing and, although we have some upcoming large projects, finding space for our current needs is becoming difficult.

An unexpected item on your desk

limbo trophyA limbo trophy from the networking event at the 2017 Healthcare Design Conference + Expo. I wasn’t an official winner, but according to my own calculations I finished third. I had such a great time that night and wanted to celebrate that experience, so I had my own trophy made, which I keep on my desk.

Outside the office, we’ll likely find you …

Golfing, snowboarding, biking with my sons, or practicing architecture at my own small firm. I love my current role and overseeing the design for UIHC at a high level, but I missed the challenges of creating and designing so I opened my own firm.  I’m also intrigued by the business aspect of architecture, and I have always wanted to run my own firm.

Dog or cat? 

Dog! Their loyalty and obedience make them great companions.

Coffee or tea?

Both! I need coffee in the morning, but I often drink tea in the afternoon.

Morning person or night owl?

Night owl. When I need to meet with members of the surgery team, it’s usually early mornings before their first cases—I dread those meetings.

Fashion trend do you think should make a comeback

Fanny packs. I wear one on vacation, because they are so convenient and I can carry so much more stuff, but my family makes fun of me.

How did you make your first dollar?

I worked during the summer for my cousin installing flooring. Although it was hard work, I enjoyed the different challenges, and it was my first exposure to construction.

Your go-to karaoke song

“My Hero” by Foo Fighters.

First album you ever bought

Smashing Pumpkins “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.”

Cocktail of choice

Tropical Pineapple from Jefferson County Ciderworks, a craft cider brewery near my hometown.

Your hidden talent

Singing, but my friends and family would disagree!

If you weren’t an architect, you would be …

An engineer. I thrive on being able to develop solutions.

Favorite …

Quote “The only time I set the bar low is for limbo.”—Michael Scott, “The Office.” I truly believe it’s important to continually push yourself to improve and grow. This is something I try to achieve in my professional and personal life.

Movie character Cousin Eddie in “National Lampoons Christmas Vacation.” Despite his bad luck and complete disregard of social norms, he’s unflappable. He also has some of the funniest lines in that movie.

Show to binge watch “Friends.” It’s so well written, I never get tired of it.

Luke Leyden bike trailWeekend activity Bike riding on a trail near my house. The trail used to be railroad tracks, so it’s long and flat with a beautiful tree canopy. It’s a great opportunity to connect with nature and clear my head.

Band/musical artist Foo Fighters. I love their music.

Guilty pleasure An occasional Red Bull when I get drowsy mid-afternoon.

Snack when you travel Gummy bears.

Sport Supercross. I grew up riding dirt bikes, so I really enjoy watching it. Our family has a fantasy league and we always have people we are cheering for.

Team Iowa Hawkeyes football.

Luke Leyden family vacation

City to visit Clearwater, Fla. I have traveled there several times with my family and love the beach.