Mike Treanor was hooked on architecture from the time he rolled with the Boy Scouts.
"I got my architecture merit badge in Boy Scouts when I was 13," said Treanor, Chairman of Treanor Architects P.A. of Lawrence, Kan. "I was hooked."

Mike Treanor is Chairman of Treanor Architects P.A. of Lawrence, Kan. (Photos courtesy of Treanor Architects.)

Mike Treanor was hooked on architecture from the time he rolled with the Boy Scouts.

"I got my architecture merit badge in Boy Scouts when I was 13," said Treanor, Chairman of Treanor Architects P.A. of Lawrence, Kan. "I was hooked."

Treanor, who makes his home in Kirkwood, Mo., started his architecture firm in 1981, and currently has four offices in Lawrence, Topeka, Kan., Kansas City, Mo., and Kirkwood.

"I graduated from Kirkwood High school in 1970, went to KU and graduated in 1975," he said. "KU was reciprocal with Missouri for architecture and vet school, I believe, so I was able to get in-state tuition."

Treanor Architects is in the final design phase for the Kansas Statehouse. Pictured are (left to right) Dan Rowe, Sharon Schmitz, Steve Malin, Mike Treanor, Andy Pitts, Joe Stramberg, Nadia Zhiri, Vance Kelley (Photos courtesy of Treanor Architects.)

Breaking In

When Treanor entered the field it was very much like today's recession economy, he noted. In some respects, it was even worse. "Interest rates were very high and work was almost nonexistent except for large single family residential," he said. "I was a partner in a small firm that got up to about 20 people doing fairly large-scale renovations at the university, but was down to five when I left."

Treanor sold his interest to the two older partners, and with his small nest egg opened an office in the back bedroom of his home.

"I had several large home commissions and things started going pretty well," Treanor said. "Early on a small developer brought me several projects, mostly renovations and in-fill housing work."

In 1984 Treanor became partners with his father and his partner in the real estate development business. "That fed us a consistent workload and although a small part of our firm's workload today, still continues to feed us new work," he said.

Treanor said his father was his "wise, trusted advisor, friend and confidante" - and occasional banker.

"It's not easy to stay afloat when you are getting started," he said. "I owe him for everything you can owe a father. My mom has been great, too. My St. Louis partners and I eat dinner at her house every two to three weeks, and she is a great cook."

Treanor has 10 principal partners and about 100 people total in the firm. "We have grown steadily from single proprietorship to where we are today," Treanor said. "We decided on a transition plan that was developed with a strategic planning firm. Our goal was to identify our future leaders, develop their skills and make it easy for them to buy in. All stock is bought and sold by the firm. The stock has done pretty well, so it is a pretty easy sell."

Treanor Architects has landed high profile jobs, including this photo which shows an artists’ rendition of the Kansas University School of Pharmacy in Lawrence, Kan.

Focus Markets

Treanor's firm focuses on five market sectors: Student Life, Life Sciences, Justice, Historic Preservation, and Development.

"I have worked in all areas but focus mostly on development these days," he said. "We have very knowledgeable principals that head up each of our market sectors. They and their teams work only in these areas so it is a powerful statement that we can make to our clients that our market leaders are dedicated to that one market area. It helps in recruiting and becoming the thought leader in each particular area."

The focus of each group on its own niche has served the firm well. "Student Life focuses mostly on college and university master planning, student housing, student unions and recreation facilities. We have a subgroup that works just on fraternity and sorority projects nationwide. Student Life works all over the country, and we even had a project overseas last year in Quatar - a 600-bed student living center.

"Justice works regionally and mostly serves to provide services for county jails and courthouses. This also fits nicely with our historic preservation group because most courthouses are the jewels of the county and many times historic structures.

"We acquired a 20-person firm almost two years ago that makes up our Life Sciences group. They had a great resume in laboratory work, but they were going after churches, schools and other projects. We asked them to focus on just life science and everyone seems very happy."

The combination has proven effective in helping the firm land high-profile projects. "Shortly after the merger, our combined firm went after and won the new School of Pharmacy at KU. We still do the community projects - they are important projects for where we live - we just don't spend a lot on marketing those kinds of projects."

Treanor Architects is in the final design phase for the Kansas Statehouse in Topeka, Kan.

A Case in Point

Treanor Architects is in the final design phase for the Kansas Statehouse.

"We started on the Historic Structures report in 2001 and will finish the North Wing and Visitor Center in 2011," he said. "We phased the project very similar to the way it was built originally: East Wing (Senate Chambers), West Wing (House), South Wing. Under construction now is the Governor's Wing, and the North Wing will follow, which contains the Statehouse Library. Legislative offices and meeting rooms are in all the wings. Part of the project was to reclaim the original basement for new office space."

Treanor said approximately 118,000 square feet was added to the ground floor along with an underground parking garage and Visitor Center.

"We have created a living document file that chronicles the work as it is completed," he said. "The last renovation was approximately 90 years ago, so it was ready for a substantial effort."

No drawings existed of the existing building, so a large effort was made to create a good database for future generations. "We have had some of the best historic materials people in the country involved in the effort," Treanor said. "From reworking the stone, which was in very poor condition, to recreating the painted stencils throughout the public spaces in the building, uncovering old skylights, restoring the infrastructure including a new fire suppression and smoke evacuation system. It is truly a great project."

Focusing on Sustainability

Treanor said nothing is more sustainable than reusing and recycling a building that may have outlived its usefulness for its intended purpose.

"We have about 25 LEED AP's and approach each project with sustainability in mind," he said. "Our clients are demanding it and we are happy to oblige. It is very satisfying to work on projects where people remark on the air quality and feel great about doing the right thing in building a sustainable project. We worked with some consultants at first but are now handling all of the LEED requirements in-house."

Treanor Architects is not busting at the seams with business, but they are holding their own.

"Our philosophy has been to know more about our clients' business than at least our competition and sometimes more than our clients," Treanor said. "This lets us be helpful and useful in lots of ways and gets us in the door a lot of times at least for an interview. We have a great marketing staff that keeps us pointed in the right direction and right now we are targeting about $750 million in projects in all of our market sectors. We obviously won't get them all, but we should get our fair share."

Tips for Architects

When it comes to advice for architects, Treanor wraps it up in one word.

"Focus!" he said. "When we adopted the strategy of focusing on just a few areas, we thought we had done a great job to get it to about 10 areas - and that was with 25 people."

Treanor's strategic planning consultant convinced him he had not quite grasped the concept. "We worked at it and eventually came to what we have today," he said. "We hope to add a health care firm in the next year or so. We think this is going to be a strong market."