Architect to step down after leaving mark – including First National’s tower – across Omaha

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Posted: Wednesday, November 6, 2013 12:00 am

Not only has he designed buildings for corporate giants, but Lloyd Meyer also has done the same for a colony of bonobo apes, college students and the legendary Father Flanagan.

His standing as one of the city's architectural leaders also gave him major say in why Nebraska's tallest building sports a “bustle,” why a split exists in Omaha's Central Park Plaza and the interior design of ConAgra's global headquarters.

During his four-decade tenure with the international Leo A. Daly architectural and engineering firm — 17 years of it at the helm of the Omaha office — Meyer, 66, has made an enduring mark on the landscape of his home state.

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“He has designed many of the city's most well-known buildings, directly influencing the city's architectural character,” said John Kraskiewicz, Daly senior vice president and chief operations officer.

Though Meyer has been largely a low-profile manager, the York, Neb., native will retire in March having led high-profile architectural projects, including the First National Bank's 40-story tower, the glassy Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska home, the twin-tower Central Park Plaza office structure and the shrine where Boys Town's priest founder was finally laid to rest.

He's overseen a few hundred projects in 37 states and a half-dozen countries, and lived 12 years in Georgia, where he established Daly's Atlanta branch.

The most recent 17 years were based in Omaha as vice president and managing principal of the largest of Daly's 31 offices worldwide. (Daly, with its headquarters in Omaha, is ranked among the 10 largest architecture and engineering firms in the United States.)

When Meyer hands over the Omaha reigns to Christopher Johnson, he'll leave as the company's longest-serving managing principal. Known also for fun anecdotes, Meyer calls his career a never-boring adventure that began and ended in the same Omaha office.

“It's been a long journey with the Daly company,” Meyer said. “But from where I started to where I am now, it's been just about 132 feet.”

A part of the century-old Daly firm for 42 years, his connection actually dates to Meyer's college days, when in 1968 he won the firm's first-ever traveling scholarship contest for architecture students.

He recalls writing an essay on why he, then a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, should win a trip across Europe visiting architectural sites. He told the judges his main interest was techniques in concrete, including those used in the Ronchamp in France and by Swiss engineer Robert Maillart.

He won the 90-day trip and, four years later, while finishing his master's degree at Harvard University's School of Design, he got another Daly call offering him a full-time job. He never left.

“It occurred to me the other day that I have never prepared a resume,” Meyer said. He said his work is ever-changing: “New clients. New sites. New project type. Constant variety.”

Meyer's first big project after joining Daly was the design of St. Joseph Hospital, now Creighton University Medical Center, at 30th and California Streets. Among other health care assignments was leadership of the design of Alegent Creighton's Lakeside Hospital, which opened in 2004.

The Boys Town headquarters, which Meyer said was patterned after an Italian hill town, was another early project that would expand and evolve over the years.

“We're still building buildings out there,” he said.

Meyer and Leo Daly II also designed the memorial chapel for Father Flanagan's body. “I was honored to do that,” he said.

In on the planning of the downtown Gene Leahy Mall, Meyer recalls leading the design of the Central Park Plaza that would rise at the western end. He said it had to be a dramatic focal point. Thus were born the V-shaped twin towers, unified by a low-rise base of commercial space.

Onlookers would look at the red brick structure and see light bursting through the slit separating the 13-story office towers.

“The Gene Leahy Mall is very much a linear mall that runs east to west, like the major roads,” Meyer said. “When you look down the mall, your eye's just drawn to that narrow slit between the edges of the two brick buildings.”

A career highlight, Meyer said, was leading the design team on the First National Tower, which took a year and a half to design and nearly three years to build.

Bruce Lauritzen, chairman of First National, recalled his glee when an Omaha firm won the national contest seeking an architectural plan. He said Meyer was instrumental in keeping the design phase on time and in fine shape.

“They were very creative and flexible,” Lauritzen said. “We had a lot of fun doing that project together.”

Meyer recalled a few insider stories, including why the tower has a “bustle.” Designers were told late in the game to include the credit card division, which required bigger floor plates. Lower floors were extended to the west.

“It formed this bump, so we called it the bustle,” Meyer said, referencing the puffed out section of a woman's skirt as worn in the 19th century.

Meyer also recalled his role in the sculpted geese that fly over the street and into the tower's winter garden. He suggested that the geese not be constrained, but rather be positioned in various spots, including on a light pole.

Likewise, other project designs were based on client wishes and typically hearken to company history.

Take the interior design of buildings on the ConAgra campus. Inspired by the firm's roots in flour, Meyer's team gave the CEO a coffee table made of millstone.

A more recent competitive project was the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska headquarters that opened in 2010 at Aksarben Village. The facility is owned by Tetrad Property Group and leased long-term to the insurance company, so Daly designed the building to be relevant to other types of companies if the arrangement ended.

Among out-of-state projects Meyer recalls fondly was his lead in the development of the Great Ape Trust of Iowa.

At the ape research complex, bonobos communicate through graphic symbols and a keyboard with lexigrams. So when Meyer was designing sleeping quarters he took his questions to head ape Kanzi, who indicated they wanted quiet, high and cool.

“You haven't lived as an architect until you have talked to the animals,” joked Meyer.

Since 1997, Meyer also has led the design of new buildings at the College of St. Mary campus, including development of the new entrance at 7000 Mercy Road.

Among his hallmarks, said Sister Maryanne Stevens, president, is growing young talent. He also volunteered nine years on the college board.

Upon retirement, Meyer, who has three children with his wife, Charlene, plans to stay active in community events and boards.

He said he's enjoyed his part in helping to build Omaha and working with its “movers and shakers.”

“We're driven by our creative juices,” Meyer said. “And when you're able to transform your client's dreams into reality, it really feels good.”

>> St. Joseph Hospital, now Creighton University Medical Center (602 N. 30th St., 1972-76)

>> Central Park Plaza (222 S. 15th St., 1980-84)

>> Boys Town Headquarters, Hospital (14100 Crawford St. and 2801 S. 88th St., 1975-84)

>> Shoppes at Aksarben (72nd and Pacific Streets, 1998-2000)

>> First National Tower (1620 Dodge St., 1997-2002)

>> Security National Bank (3500 Farnam St., 2001-02)

>> Lakeside Hospital (16901 Lakeside Hills Court, 2000-04)

>> Lied Learning and Technology Center for Childhood Deafness and Vision Disorders (425 N. 30th St., 2002-04)

>> Carl T. Curtis Midwest Regional Building, National Park Service, (601 Riverfront Drive, 2003-04)

>> Nebraska Medical Center's Hixson-Lied Center (42nd and Farnam Streets, 2002-06)

>> Edward Zorinsky Federal Office Building (1616 Capitol Ave., 2002-07)

>> College of St. Mary buildings (7000 Mercy Road, 1997-present)

>> Omaha VA Medical Center (4101 Woolworth Ave., 1998-present)

>> Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska (1919 Aksarben Drive, 2008-10)

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