Announcements 01.13.2022

Internationally Renowned Design Leader Chris Connell Joins Perkins&Will

Former Chief Design Officer for Cleveland Clinic promises Perkins&Will clients exceptional design solutions guided by a nuanced understanding of their business needs.

LOS ANGELES—January, 13, 2022—Chris Connell, the prolific architect behind such projects as the Samson Pavilion for Case Western Reserve University, Hydro Arena in Glasgow, and 100 East 53rd Street in New York City, has joined global design firm Perkins&Will.

Connell serves in a firmwide leadership role that allows Perkins&Will clients to benefit from his high design pedigree and proven business savvy. Most recently, he was the Chief Design Officer of Cleveland Clinic—ranked one of the best hospitals in the U.S.—where he worked to ensure alignment between the organization’s architectural and strategic goals.

“The beauty and rigor of Chris’s design work, which spans a remarkable breadth of typologies and markets, speaks for itself. But in addition to design excellence, one of Chris’s greatest strengths is his ability to see clearly from the client’s perspective—to expertly bridge design with organizational strategy,” says Perkins&Will CEO Phil Harrison. “Chris knows precisely what clients need because he, himself, has been a client.”

The Samson Pavilion at the Health Education Campus for Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic

One Designer, Many Forms

For more than 30 years, Connell has designed places, spaces, and architectural products at various scales in cities around the world. A generalist, he has led complex design projects and master plans for clients in industries as wide-ranging as healthcare, hospitality, corporate and commercial, residential, science and technology, civic and cultural, transportation, higher education, and sports, entertainment, and recreation.

Even as Chief Design Officer at Cleveland Clinic—a role Connell held over the past four years—he oversaw much more than hospital architecture and medical planning. Often, his work entailed comprehensive master planning and urban design.

“Healthcare hubs are the size of small cities,” Connell says, noting that there can be dozens of buildings on a given healthcare campus—from administrative to recreational to academic to mixed-use. “At their core, they should be sophisticated, integrated, and vibrant urban community projects.”

Insider’s Advantage: Designing for the Client, as the Client

At Cleveland Clinic, Connell also led the expansion of the organization’s internal art and design institute, which developed global design standards for the entire enterprise, as well as conceptual design visions for key projects. Connell and his team then oversaw the work of partner architecture firms in executing those projects.

“In the kind of leadership role I’ve had, you interact with a far broader executive team and see many more aspects of an organization than you would from the outside, so you learn a lot about the inner workings,” Connell says. “You also understand the context of your own design work much better. Being on the inside shows you how responding to ever-changing priorities is critical.”

Notably, he says, he came to appreciate the performance pressures an organization faces, and how it must strike a balance between humanity and sound business. He also developed a keen appreciation for the myriad roles and responsibilities required for complex projects on the client side.

Above: A series of sketches Chris created for a residential tower in Darmstadt, Germany. Below: A sketch for a pavilion he designed in Gloucestershire, England

Flexibility: An Essential Planning and Design Strategy

Fortunately, complex projects are Connell’s specialty. He prides himself on his ability to simplify the planning and design process for clients, and to bring clarity to the design response. He does this through a leadership style that reinforces teamwork, accountability, and mutual respect.

“My mantra has always been flexibility—not just in design strategy, but also in team-building and process,” he says. “For example, there’s this myth that planning and design are distinct—especially in healthcare—but really, they’re intertwined and symbiotic. Adaptable buildings generally have a richer existence, too. They’re better for our clients, more versatile, more sustainable, and have longer lives.”

Connell points to his work on the Samson Pavilion at Cleveland Clinic’s Health Education Campus as a paragon of flexibility. Spurred by the pandemic, in 2020, he and his team helped oversee a series of rapid transformations of the Pavilion—from a school to a 1,100-bed surge hospital for COVID-19 patients, to a Presidential debate venue, and then back to a school.

“Flexibility is key, and never more so than in a post-pandemic world.”

Chris Connell has worked on over 100 projects around the world, which have won over 40 awards for design excellence. He worked with Foster + Partners for over 28 years before joining Cleveland Clinic in 2017. A member of the Royal Institute of British Architects and the Royal Institute of Architects in Scotland, he has lectured at numerous universities, including Cambridge, Edinburgh and Glasgow, and has led talks in cities like Berlin, Boston, Cleveland, London, New Delhi, and Valetta. Connell holds a Bachelor of Architecture from the Glasgow School of Art and a Master of Architecture from the University of Glasgow. He is based in Perkins&Will’s Los Angeles studio.