By Libby Castro Special to Published Mar 13, 2010 at 2:24 PM
Jason Korb and Jeff Tredo opened their firm, Korb Tredo Architects (KTA), in late 2006, right about when the country's economy started to tank. Before that, they worked for the likes of HGA and Workshop Architects in Milwaukee. They, like most of us, did not see the recession coming, but that didn't seem to slow them down. As a matter of fact, this firm is not just surviving, it is thriving.

What's their secret? The two met at UWM School of Architecture and Urban Planning (SARUP) and, staying in Milwaukee, have managed to make many good contacts that led to work. They've also made smart business decisions that led to their success. Korb and Tredo decided to "hire up" as they term it -- hiring people with the same or more experience and expertise than they have; not a common practice among architects.

Architects I worked for preferred to mold an employee rather than learn from them. By putting their egos aside, this savvy business move has "paid off in spades," as Korb put it. Beginning with just two of them, they added eight great architects and designers in a mere two years and have maintained a staff of 10.

I had the opportunity to spend an afternoon with them. We toured the welcome center at St. John's and HOPE Christian School: Forits, both in Milwaukee. At both locations, we ran into the administrators. The banter was familiar and friendly, and it was clear that KTA made a connection both professionally and personally. The buildings were beautiful and sustainable, and the end users took great pride in KTA's contributions.

At HOPE: Fortis, We Energies provided funding for solar panels and added a computer kiosk that allows students to track electricity generation and consumption. And, the school was cleverly finished to allow HOPE: Fortis to grow and add on in the future.

KTA also works on several projects at Marquette University, their latest being McCabe Hall, a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified residence hall on 17th Street and Wisconsin Avenue. As you will see in these photos, the residence hall smacks of their modern yet warm aesthetic. Too bad Korb and Tredo were also in dorms when I lived in residence halls; I would have loved to call one of their buildings home.

Just last week, I had another opportunity to tour one of their buildings, the Johnston Center in Milwaukee. This is semi-permanent and permanent housing for some of Milwaukee's homeless run by Mercy Housing. "We are intensely interested in working in our community," says Tredo. Both Korb and Tredo mentioned that they take nothing for granted and work hard to keep clients happy. They never assume they are a shoe-in for continued work with current clients.

When we toured the Johnston Center, I was lucky enough to meet two representatives from Mercy Housing, and, again, their rapport with their clients made me realize their incredible ability to connect with people on all levels. They seemingly hit it off in the beginning to get the work, then build and maintain trust and cultivate customers. Not only that, they connect clients with other vendors and resources, helping clients solve problems they agonized over. Good people to know.

But don't take my word for it, listen to these testimonials:

"We don't hire firms, we hire people," said Tom Ganey.

"Korb Tredo Architects is an excellent company to work with. We were extremely pleased to partner with them on our building project.

"Working with a church requires patience, as there are so many opinions among the members about what the project should look like and accomplish. Korb Tredo displayed an abundance of patience throughout the project.

"They were sensitive to our suggestions without letting go of their excellent vision. Because of their patience and tact, they delivered a building that meets our needs, but also speaks to who they are as architects. Even those who were somewhat skeptical of attaching a modern space to an old church are very pleased with the result.

"Korb Tredo went the extra mile and then some to create a beautiful space that met all of our concerns. I'm pretty sure that we have the coolest gathering space around. When we have visitors, jaws drop and we get all kinds of compliments," said Pastor Eric Goldschmidt of St. John's.

"If Korb Tredo proves to be as capable at designing buildings as they are with connecting people, then the project will be great," said  David Lyon of Mercy Housing.

Take a look at these renderings, visit the buildings and be inspired. As always, let me know what you think.

Libby Castro Special to
Libby received her Masters of Architecture from Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah Georgia and spent one year in Florence Italy with Syracuse University. While in Florence she worked for and Italian architect/industrial designer. She lived in San Francisco for eight years immediately after college. There she worked for three architecture firms with projects ranging from the nuts and bolts of retail to retail branding to high end residential and custom commercial buildings. Libby returned to her native Wisconsin where she is the Architecture and Design Manager for Novation Architectural Products and a partner in LP/w Design Studios. To date, her most accomplished and important job is mom of two beautiful girls.