Cindy McCleary is working to strengthen local ties while balancing work on national and international projects as the newly promoted managing principal of the Minneapolis studio of Leo A Daly architecture and engineering firm.

McCleary, who has more than two decades of design, planning and management experience, joined the Minneapolis studio in 2011 as public and institutional market sector leader. She initiated and built what has become a regional and national practice serving government, library and education clients.

McCleary said she’s seeking to increase connections to local social-outreach and business organizations, based in part on experience owning and running two small businesses, one in retail and one in real estate management.

Many Minneapolis staff members are subject-matter experts who support other offices on federal, law enforcement and distribution center projects, McCleary said.

“One goal is to strategically align a balance between making a significant impact in our own hometown, if you will, as well as providing this pretty unique array of talent across the nation,” McCleary said.

Having fully integrated architecture and engineering services distinguishes the Minneapolis studio, offering clients the skills and talents needed to develop high-performing buildings, McCleary said.

“We believe that everything we touch is for the betterment of the human experience,” McCleary said. “The architecture is the outcome of that.”

McCleary has a liberal arts degree and a master’s degree in architecture from the University of Minnesota. “The art piece got me into it while the joy of design and building through iteration inspired me to make this my field,” McCleary said.

Among current and recent work of the Minneapolis studio, which has 100 design professionals, is the Toro Co. headquarters expansion, Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s facility and the Minnesota Historical Society’s Historic Fort Snelling renovations and visitors center.

Leo A Daly, headquartered in Omaha, also offers planning, interior design and project-management services.

Q: How do you approach project design?

A: Generally we believe that architecture should represent place. It should have an aesthetic and a look and a vernacular that is local, that’s from the people that are going to be using the facility … because the facility is a tool for their use. They’re delivering their mission through a building that we’re designing for them so using that voice to inform the project is something that we believe pretty strongly in.

Q: What’s a goal in leading the Minneapolis studio?

A: We’ve got a hub of talent here that supports our other offices. But one goal and one priority is the importance of local connectivity. Doing work in our own hometown has a different meaningfulness to it.

Q: How will you pursue that?

A: We’ve proactively taken on efforts to participate in mission-driven projects here. Second Harvest Heartland, their new distribution facility and volunteer center, is one. Participating heavily with clients like that, supporting them through projects but also through our own volunteerism with food packing. We have a fair amount of strategic and thoughtful pro bono activities to give back to the community.


Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Lake Elmo. His e-mail is