December 20, 2016 by
Photography by Contributed

“She’s an inspiration for women everywhere because she has always wanted to do something to better the world.”

– N. Brito Mutanayagam, Ph.D.

Is it possible for design, function, color, texture, light, artwork, botanicals, and aroma—things that form an indoor environment—to heal a person? Aneetha (pronounced “Anita”) McLellan believes they can, and do. She strives to use her gifts as an interior architect to advance the premise; in the process, McLellan has helped revolutionize the way people “see” health care.

The award-winning, highly sought-after interior innovator heads the health care division of DLR Group, the architectural and engineering firm she joined in early 2016. She guides a team of architects, landscape designers, civil engineers, and electrical engineers in designing medical facilities, from sprawling hospitals to smaller clinics and rehab centers.

“I’m an interior designer, but I impact the exterior architecture in every way,” McLellan explains. “The experience a person has walking from the parking lot to the front door and then into the building is a big deal to me.”

As the model of health care moves away from the intimidating sterile corridors of huge hospitals to the more intimate spaces of outpatient wellness clinics, McLellan’s signature interiors share a basic template. They offer wide open spaces, clean lines, minimal clutter, peaceful outdoor views, and lots of natural light.

Her work spans the globe, but examples of her unique vision punctuate the landscape in Omaha, her home base.

“I cut my teeth on Children’s Hospital. It was my first big project,” says McLellan, who began her career with Omaha’s HDR. “It won Hospital of the Year in 2000,” she says, still amazed at the buzz created by the window-rich building at 84th and Dodge streets.

She incorporated the same open, airy, and stunning effect of glass into Methodist Women’s Hospital off 192nd Street. During her 19 years at HDR, the accolades accumulated.

More recently, with DLR Group, McLellan proudly attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital’s new state-of-the-art facility near Village Pointe, which features a more traditional brick-and-mortar look. She worked closely with Madonna to create a decidedly warm, homey feel with large resident rooms and a meticulously landscaped therapy garden, an “oasis of healing.”

Light seems to surround McLellan, a light generated by the passion this tiny dynamo displays for her profession, family, and heritage. The only child of an Indian father and a mother from Sri Lanka, McLellan grew up in Lincoln. She graduated from Pius X High School and earned an architecture degree in 1997 from the University of Nebraska, where her father taught community and regional planning for many years.

“She was a go-getter from the time she was a little girl, and I knew she was destined for greatness,” says N. Brito Mutunayagam, Ph.D., clearly proud of his daughter. “She’s an inspiration for women everywhere because she has always wanted to do something to better the world.”

At home in Omaha, McLellan’s world revolves around her 9-year-old daughter and her husband, Jim McLellan, an electrical engineer she met on an early HDR project. The two now work together at DLR. “I don’t know what it’s like not to work with him,” she laughs, clearly grateful for his unwavering support of her career, which has her traveling at least once a week. “He’s always there for our daughter,” she says. “He was meant to be a father.”

And, it could be argued, she was meant to heal through design.

Visit dlrgroup.com for more information.

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