Treanor Architects Blog/News

Details make the building

2015-06-16 Posted By: Patty Weaver

What gives a historic building its defining character? It may be the era, the type of building—but often, it’s what’s inside that captures the imagination.

While some buildings are purely functional, for many of our country’s oldest buildings, the purpose is larger, and this story is told through the details and finishes of their interiors. Government buildings were intended to convey the importance of democracy. Libraries were intended to make learning accessible to all. Our cities’ most iconic buildings carry a sense of community history.

Architectural details at the Dillon House

They are treasures of metal work, marble, intricate plaster details, decorative painting and ornamental trims. A grand staircase. Fine wood wainscoting. Intricately painted murals.

For example, entering the Oklahoma Capitol Building, which will undergo interior restoration beginning in 2016, a visitor is greeted with open rotundas connected by marble staircases, a space of luxe materials and intricate detail.

During the building’s construction, The Daily Oklahoman described it this way: “Visitors are now able to comprehend in an imaginative way the wonderful architectural beauty of the edifice as it will be when completed, especially as they stand on the basement floor at one of the entrances.  The Oklahoma Capitol will invite future visitors with an impression of monumental loftiness.”

“In a historic building, a lot of thought was put into details that you are seeing from 100 feet away— shadows, highlights, one extra stroke of metallic finish that creates the perception of depth on a wall,” says Todd Renyer, architect with Treanor Architects Preservation studio. 

Playing historic detective. Interior preservation isn’t just restoring what is worn or has suffered neglect over time. It means uncovering details and design features that building owners might not be aware of—those hidden under a coat of paint, dropped ceiling or modern “update.” It may also mean reconstructing original details that have been removed or repairing well-intentioned “fixes” from the past.

Historic photos, floor plans and documentation are a good place to start, along with physical exploration of the building itself. Detective work may involve nondestructive or destructive investigative techniques, from removing cover plates and lights to creating an exposure window to remove paint one layer at a time.

Architectural details at the Kansas Statehouse

Testing can help to determine the condition and age of finishes and a path to restoration. Historic metals, for example, tarnish over time; they may need gentle cleaning and new lacquers or protective layers. Copper-plated cast iron or painted metals can be damaged by corrosive housekeeping processes or age, and may need tinted lacquer or waxes to restore their appearance. Marble floors often have scratches and chips, and need partial repair or full restoration.

Old light fixtures can be brought up to standard by repairing internal parts and using catalogue reproduction fixtures. Cracks in plaster, from time or electrical installation, can be patched and blended. Crown molding damaged by water and decorative paint techniques can be recreated.

Sometimes, you find more than expected. At the Kansas Statehouse, workmen repairing a leaky ceiling in the House of Representatives chambers revealed a hidden mural. When test scrapes showed there were actually four murals, a full-scale art restoration began, says Jeff Russell, who served as Kansas’ legislative services director at the time.

“It is the interior beauty of this building that is the showstopper, and with this restoration, we honor the building, its history and the work that happens there,” says Russell. “In a building like this, perhaps you’ll stand a little straighter and listen a little more. It takes people’s breath away.”

Choosing what to restore. Historically, the more opulent and high quality finishes, such as metals, marble and oak, were used in public spaces, with private spaces finished in simpler materials. “Today, we do the same and often spend money where most people would see it,” says Renyer. “We start with classification of spaces by historic significance. The highest level of integrity rises to a higher level of preservation. Lower significances are not treated with the same rules.”

It’s a careful dance between what historic standards require, the level of importance of individual features, the budget and additional project goals. In restoring the Dillon House, a prominent Topeka mansion, for its corporate headquarters, real estate development firm Pioneer Group (Topeka, KS) wanted to showcase its historic rehabilitation work, as well as create offices and hospitality spaces for the growing company.

“We wanted to achieve a thing of beauty,” says President Ross Freeman, who chose the building in part because he felt a personal connection to it and its creator. That required an investment in the building’s rich finishes, from oak hardwood floors and fireplaces in the upstairs offices to the grand staircase and a library of stained glass windows featuring English authors and poets. “When they cleaned those windows for the first time in 104 years, the colors came alive,” Freeman recalls.

History as identity. Often, historic details can take on a life of their own—inspiring private building owners and public citizens alike. They may even become part of a brand identity for the building occupant.

That’s what happened in Pittsburg, Kansas, where a restoration and expansion of the community’s Carnegie library revealed the historic significance of its Prairie architecture. Today, those distinct Prairie details are a part of the library’s identity— appearing on its letterhead, signage and throughout daily library life.

When viewed through the lens of history and preservation, paying close attention to interior finishes is an opportunity to revive the context of our historic buildings and pass that on to future generations. The end result is more than a decision to repair an alabaster railing, reclaim a painted rotunda or find room in a budget for hardwood floors.

“A state capitol, for example, was never meant to be ‘just a building.’ It’s a piece of art and a showpiece for our state. It is our front door to the world,” says Trait Thompson, project manager for Oklahoma’s Capitol Renovation. “In restoring it, you’ve just saved an integral part of your culture.”

COMING SOON: We’ll be taking an in-depth look at some of the interior finishes that define our most treasured historic buildings. Watch for future emails to help you make the most of yesterday’s interiors.

ALSO READ: Investing in the past for the future

Investing in the past for the future

2015-06-16 Posted By: Patty Weaver

A well-thought-out interior preservation effort is more than a capital expense. It’s an investment that can pay off well into the future.

Materials used in 100+ year-old buildings—hardwoods, marble, stone—have already stood the test of time. With the right restoration and maintenance plan, they can easily last another 100 years or more.

During your project, your preservation team will conduct a thorough investigation, leaving you with a comprehensive history that helps you to better understand the significance of your building and how (and why) it was originally designed and constructed.

“As preservation architects, our intent is never to create a false sense of significance. It is to highlight the original architectural features,” says Vance Kelley, principal with Treanor Architects Preservation studio. “We can also help control the budget through thorough investigation.”

For example, when examining a dropped ceiling added for duct installation, you’ll be able to confirm upfront whether a decorative ceiling hides there or whether that space was not meant to be seen. You’ll have clear cost estimates for knowns like marble floor repairs, although unknowns, such as what’s inside aging plaster walls, will be less clear. In all cases, an experienced preservation architect can tell you where specialized craftspeople are required and where you can save money by using non-specialty builders

While your budget may not allow for every single detail that you would love to restore, with clear-cut goals and a practical plan, you can set priorities, make smart decisions and end up with an interior that feels true to its time period.

As your team documents how individual finishes have been restored or replaced, and what levels of maintenance will keep them in fine condition, you’re left not just with a sparkling restoration. You also have the critical information you need to plan for ongoing maintenance and repairs.

“A historic building that’s neglected is like the $100,000 Mercedes that you aren’t cleaning,” says Jeff Russell, who served as legislative services director during the Kansas Statehouse restoration. “It is up to us to take care of what our forefathers have created.”

A carefully crafted preservation effort makes that possible—today and well into the future.

COMING SOON: We’ll be taking an in-depth look at some of the interior finishes that define our most treasured historic buildings. Watch for future emails to help you make the most of yesterday’s interiors.

ALSO READ: Details make the building

The Third Place: A First Priority


There are spaces that just naturally attract students. They’re comfortable, multifunctional, easy to access and a hallmark of the residential campus experience. It’s this type of accessible community space that inspired Starbucks’ living room approach, and that has become the center of many urban planning efforts.

More and more, it’s this quality of place that well-designed residence hall social spaces, student unions, libraries and outdoor courtyards hope to achieve — flexible, hybrid spaces that are vibrant, attractive, well-used anchors of student life, relationship building and community engagement.

Balancing modern function with historic preservation

2014-12-18 Posted By: Patty Weaver

Integrating modern mechanical systems into a historic building is an art and a science—and many people believe it cannot be done effectively.

Historic architecture does provide unique challenges. It also offers a wealth of opportunities to upgrade systems while keeping the character and integrity of the building intact, says Joy Coleman, AIA, principal at Treanor Architects Preservation studio.

“Historic buildings can be updated for modern use,” Coleman says. “How you do that will depend on the age and the period of the building. You must do the research and know the building.”

Box beams and coffered ceilings
Box beams and coffered ceilings were used at the Kansas Statehouse to install fire suppression sprinkler systems, smoke detection systems, and security camera wiring. You maybe able to spot the security camera in the after photo (bottom), but can you spot the smoke detection system?

Here’s how you can take a smart approach to marrying modern systems with a historic building:

Plan carefully. Old photos, building documentation, construction plans—even similarly constructed buildings— may all provide ideas. And there are clues right in the building itself. “Using our experiences from previous projects, we speculate about where systems can best be integrated into the building. We then conduct selective investigations to test our hypotheses,” says Coleman. “We might create a small hole in a noncritical space to confirm our theories about what will work.”

For a contractor, planning is critical on a historic project, says Jeff Combes, general superintendent at JE Dunn Construction (Kansas City, MO). To eliminate structural surprises, his firm x-rays internal beams instead of relying on drawings. That helps them to shore up the building and allow mechanical systems to be installed safely and without negative impact or visual prominence. “You have to do the structural analysis of the impact you’re having,” he says. “These buildings may have been sitting there for 100 years, and now you’re removing a leg. You can’t just jack hammer your way through.”

Start with what you have. “You have to look at what was there. That’s where you start,” says Terry Sullivan, PE, AIA, LEED AP, director of engineering at Schooley Caldwell Associates (Columbus, OH). Many large, older buildings were designed to draw air up through vertical distribution, rather than the opposite pattern used in many modern buildings. You may be able to leverage that natural ventilation pattern for the HVAC system. If you can install a system that works as initially intended, the whole building will function more efficiently.

Many older buildings also have tall ceilings, allowing for hiding ductwork in ceilings or floors. Elements such as chases, closets, columns, coffered ceilings and areas under bookcases can all provide convenient hiding spaces for modern systems. Historic chases or chimneys might be great space for running piping, or you might hide duct work between joists as in residential construction. Even in exterior situations, existing spaces are worth investigating. At the Kansas Statehouse, with a little investigation, an old gaslight pipe running underneath the grand staircase provided a route for modern electrical wiring.

Create new opportunities. If you understand how the building was put together, you can create solutions that will blend in well, such as taking space from a noncritical room or creating new mechanical closets. In a building with thick walls and large windows, you may have varying needs for heat in different parts of the building. Wall- or ceiling-mounted variable refrigerant flow HVAC systems that use smaller piping to provide heating and cooling could give you the flexibility you need while remaining visually unobtrusive.

Every system you integrate into the building should be customized not just for the space, but also for the building function and operation. For example, in the Dillon House, a mansion built in 1913 in Topeka, Kansas, two separate HVAC systems offer flexibility for the building’s dual use as event and office space. One system is used for larger events of 200+ people, and the other serves lightly staffed offices.

Challenge assumptions. Achieving the specific size and configuration you desire can be a creative challenge that requires thinking outside the box of current construction methods. “Just because you have done something one way for 10 years does not mean that it will work on a historic building,” says Combs. “You need an approach of ‘what if’. That is how you get to the creative solution.” Architects, engineers and contractors who are versed in historic materials and building methods will challenge assumptions and offer new ideas. Do you really need to use fan coils? Why not run ductwork through a closet or an insignificant space? How can you achieve modern lighting levels without creating glare or sacrificing period fixtures? “Often, the rest of the light can be coming from somewhere else, and will appear to come from that fixture,” says Sullivan.

Conduit and piping were installed under historic marble flooring
In many areas, electrical conduit and piping were installed under historic marble flooring at the Kansas Statehouse. After the marble tiles were lifted and set aside, cuts were made in the underlying thick grout bed to make room for the conduit and piping. New grout was poured in place to conceal the conduit and the historic marble tiles were reset in the mortar bed.

Here’s how you can take a smart approach to marrying modern systems with a historic building:

Think holistically. Addressing your mechanical systems holistically, and as part of the architectural design, offers more room for creative solutions. Choices made in one area can help to mitigate other deficiencies in bringing the building up to today’s codes and standards. Fire sprinklers, for example, might be added to mitigate non-rated walls or non-conforming stairs. Looking at the building as a whole allows you to find the opportunities to put lighting, heating and other systems in at the same time. Electrical systems might be run along newer walls.

For example, at the Ridge Top Apartments in Leavenworth, Kansas, a collection of Civil War-era buildings with 14-15-feet ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows inspired a design in which kitchen and baths were stacked in the interior of the building. That resulted in fewer drains and more efficient, less visible plumbing systems. “It’s a conscious decision to think about this in advance,” says Coleman. “If we’d done the layout differently and not created the core, then it would be up to each tradesperson where to install their systems.”

Collaborate. A building that looks age-appropriate and performs to today’s standards is a team effort. Your team may involve the owner, architects, engineers, the contractor and the relevant historical and municipal governing bodies. On some building projects, mechanical experts may be brought in right away to design as you go. In this case, everyone is working side-by-side to create the solutions. “Either way, it is doable,” says Combes. “What’s important is to have the right people. The right team can always figure out a way.”

Read Keep calm and phase your systems

Keep calm and phase your systems

2014-12-18 Posted By: Patty Weaver

Often, integrating modern mechanical systems into an older building can involve a whole building upgrade. But that doesn’t mean you need to do it all at once. (Read more about mechanical systems integration.)

If pressing mechanical concerns or limited budgets are in the way, a logical phasing plan can allow you to address them without sacrificing quality, effectiveness or historic integrity. Rather than giving in to urgency and upgrading a single system as quickly or cheaply as possible—a move you could regret down the road—consider how you can upgrade your systems in a strategic way.

Carefully integrating electrical, plumbing, heating, wi-fi and other modern systems into your historic property may take more thought than simply hiding them behind a sheetrock wall, but preserving the building’s integrity pays off in the long run. It gives you a building that retains its historic character and value, and ultimately, can perform better for the long-term.

“You want to be very careful in your choices because you are going to live with this result for the next 25 years,” says Terry Sullivan, director of engineering at Schooley Caldwell Associates (Columbus, OH). “Your historic building is a wonderful resource that deserves more than a slap-dash fix.”


Mental illness and the county jail: a new prescription

2014-12-05 Posted By: Jac Samp
Johnson County, KS Adult Detention CenterJohnson County, KS Adult Detention Center

Defining Our Signature Buildings

2014-05-08 Posted By: Patty Weaver

From the Empire State Building to the Eiffel Tower, some buildings captivate a city or even a nation. Over time, these iconic buildings become synonymous with the place they represent.

They are the buildings that, if you mention their name, people know what you’re talking about,” says Vance Kelley, AIA, principal in Treanor Architects' Historic Preservation studio. They are buildings that show up on television, in books and memories. They are, often, the ones worth preserving.

A building doesn’t need to be world-famous to be “iconic” to its community. Here are a few of the ways that a building—perhaps one in your community— can take on a life greater than the sum of its parts.

Read More

Missouri State Capitol, 2012Missouri State Capitol, 2012

Creating the live-learn environment

2013-12-11 Posted By: Emily Bengoa
Article Link
Texas A&M’s Hullabaloo Hall incorporates a community learning center.Texas A&M’s Hullabaloo Hall incorporates a community learning center.

It’s Not Just Stone & Brick

2013-10-10 Posted By: Patty Weaver

Whether it’s cleaning and repairing a limestone facade, matching a weathered brick veneer or replacing a terra cotta roof parapet, restoring masonry on a historically significant building is a complicated craft. “It’s not just rocks and bricks,” says Julia Manglitz, AIA, project architect with Treanor Architects Historic Preservation studio. “There are many things to consider, from the fabrication of the stone to installation to construction administration.”

With the right planning, team, and approach, your historic masonry can be restored to its original grandeur. Here’s what you need to consider: read more

Kansas Statehouse Historic Construction, Date UnknownKansas Statehouse Historic Construction, Date Unknown

Community by Design | Creating a Place to Belong

2013-05-07 Posted By: Emily Bengoa

When designing campus residences, it's easy to get caught up in location, room design and amenities. Yet just as important is the wealth of research that shows us how buildings can help students develop the sense of connection and community identity they need to thrive.

Engaging students on campus has much to do with programmatic decisions, but a physical environment that is designed to help students connect advances the sense of community and makes programming more effective. (click the pdf above for the entire article)

Community Dining at the University of Missouri Beta house. Sharing meals plays an essential role in increasing interaction and learning opportunities.Community Dining at the University of Missouri Beta house. Sharing meals plays an essential role in increasing interaction and learning opportunities.