Jim Lewison’s work schedule takes him out of the office so often that his AECOM coworkers came up with the game “Where in the World Is Jim?” to play during staff meetings. During his 30 years with the firm (previously known as Ellerbe Becket), he’s traveled to Singapore, China, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, India, and Turkey. One of his most memorable work trips was in South Korea, where he worked on a project for the largest cancer center in Asia. “Our client insisted on taking me to a very special restaurant at the end of a week-long intensive workshop in Seoul,” Lewison says. “He kept insisting that this chef was the best, most highly trained guy in the country. It was only after we finished an elaborate seafood meal that I came to realize that the cartoon fish on the sign over the front door was in fact the house specialty, Blowfish, a highly prized delicacy in Korea, which is deadly poisonous if not prepared correctly. By the way, it was quite tasty!” Lewison will be earning more frequent flyer miles in 2017 with several projects in the works, including a 600-bed neuro-rehabilitation hospital in northeastern China, a 1,000-bed government hospital in Jordan, and a 150-bed behavioral healthcare specialty hospital in Saudi Arabia. (Pictured at right: Yinchuan Binhe International Riverfront District Medical City, in Ningxia District, China, will include a 1-million-square-foot hospital and is expected to open in 2020. AECOM was engaged by Beijing-based Warner Architectural Studio as the interior design consultant and Lewison was lead designer.) But not all of his travels are for work. Every July, Jim and his wife spend a few weeks at their small village house in Southern France. “I harvest the annual haul of weeds from the garden and catch a couple of segments of the Tour de France,” he says.

What drew me to a career in interior design

I fell into it by accident. I attended the School of Art & Design at the University of Michigan, and during a basic studio class I encountered a professor in the interior design program. His influence on me was a combination of Zen master and Yoda, with such lessons as “Sometimes the thing left out is the important part.” I decided to change my focus from fine arts to design.

Job before joining AECOM

I worked at Cuningham Group in Minneapolis, where our main project focus was GameWorks, a side project for DreamWorks SKG and Steven Spielberg. The vision was to develop futuristic, themed gaming venues for grown-up kids. It taught me about the art of staging customer experience.

Biggest change to healthcare interior design in the last decade

Back in the 1980s the role of interior designer in medical design was too often limited to being in charge of the room finish schedule. The evolving understanding of the importance of the patient experience and how that can influence outcomes (and bottom lines) has put the profession into more of a leader/collaborator role.

On industry trends

Thumbs up: Hints of the return to hand sketching to communicate design ideas and put some human touch back into a process that has been largely taken over by drafting programs.

Thumbs down: If blue, burgundy, and gray color schemes make a return, I will head for the exits.

Three words my coworkers use to describe me

Being from the land of Minnesota Nice and Garrison Keillor’s ”A Prairie Home Companion” radio show, I wouldn’t be inclined to speculate on that.  Instead I’ll go with my Chinese Zodiac character as a monkey:

1. honest (strength)

2. impatient (weakness)

3. problem-solver (career)

Three items on my desk

Roll of trace (I’ve have been accused of being a Luddite)

Lava lamp for stress reduction

Buddha head for serenity [[IMAGE: Buddha]]


Biggest pet peeve while traveling for work

Camping out on the floor of the airport trying to protect the only electrical outlet in the entire concourse to charge my laptop.

Outside the office, you’ll likely find me …

Trying to get in a bike ride. I signed up for an upcoming event in Minnesota called 30 Days of Biking, which encourages people to ride their bikes every day in April. Whoever had the bright idea to schedule this in April obviously doesn’t live here.



Favorite …

Architect/designer I grew up down the road from Cranbrook in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., a center of education, science, and art, so I would say the entire Saarinen family of artists, including Pipsan.


“Either that wallpaper goes, or I do.”—Oscar Wilde

Vacation spot

A small former coal mining village west of Montpellier, France. Our little place is in the long row of white row houses in the far background of the picture. The pro cyclist Jens Voigt is leading the stage on the 50th anniversary of The Tour de France.


Elvis Costello, “(What’s so Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love and Understanding”

Piece of furniture in my house

A very beat-up cupboard out of the old kitchen from our 100+ year-old family farm in Western Minnesota. We found it in the granary.

TV character

Minnesota State Patrolman Lou Solverson in “Fargo”—he is my people.

Line from a movie

“Rosebud,” from “Citizen Kane.” It’s a puzzle that’s not solved until the last scene.  I love a good mystery!


Wasabi peas!

Way to unwind after a long day

Answering emails from the other side of the planet