Lawrence Group Celebrating 40 Years of Design Excellence

by Drew Edelstein

What began as an idea shared between three University of Kansas architecture students in the 1980s has grown into an award-winning design firm with more than 130 employees and four locations nationwide. In December 2023, St. Louis-based Lawrence Group observed its 40th anniversary, with celebrations commemorating the milestone achievement planned throughout 2024.

Though Lawrence Group came from humble beginnings, launching in 1983 out of a one-room office in St. Louis’ historic Lafayette Square neighborhood, founders Steve Smith, David Ohlemeyer and Paul Doerner have successfully fulfilled their vision of becoming a design and construction “super firm.”

Lawrence Group’s expertise spans a complete array of services, including architecture, interior design, master planning, furniture procurement, graphic design and landscape architecture. Design specializations include adaptive reuse, healthcare, higher education, hospitality, K-12, media and communications, multifamily housing, municipal, recreation and wellness, residential, hospitality, retail, senior living and workplace.

A nationally recognized firm, Lawrence Group is ranked a Top 300 Architecture Firm by Architectural Record, a Top 500 Design Firm by Engineering News Record, a Top 40 Healthcare Giant and a Top 100 Hospitality Giant by Interior Design Magazine, and a Top Multi-Housing Architect by Multi-Family News, among numerous other accolades.

“The idea of Lawrence Group began when my founding partners and I were freshmen at the University of Kansas. I could never have imagined then what a wonderful journey it would be since those days more than 40 years ago when we decided to name our firm Lawrence Group after the location of our alma mater,” said Smith.

The trio continued to grow the firm through the 80s and 90s guided by a mission to remain consistent and focused on understanding their clients’ dreams, values, and goals, and working aggressively to efficiently achieve them. Today, that mission remains the cornerstone of the firm and an inspiration for succeeding generations. “We think Lawrence Group is extremely well positioned both as a business and as a culture to continue to adapt and grow for decades to come,” said Smith.

“From the very beginning, we’ve built a culture that encourages dreams and ideas. It’s not about ego or hierarchy, but rather about finding new ways to bring people together. We enjoy what we do, but more than that, we want our clients to have fun while experiencing the design process. We give our team and clients every chance to let their best ideas shine through in their design,” said Mike Schnaare, President of Lawrence Group. “Solving our clients’ most ambitious real estate challenges has been a hallmark of our firm. From healing and learning environments to vibrant experiential and living spaces, Lawrence Group has woven a bright tapestry of renowned design across the country.”

In 1996, Lawrence Group expanded its business to the East Coast with the opening of its New York City office; followed by a new office in Austin, TX in 1999 and a Florida office in 2022. Lawrence Group also added partner companies Integrate Construction Partners in 2004 and New + Found development group in 2020, plus acquired St. Louis-based higher education design firm KWK Architects in 2023.

In 2007, Lawrence Group led the purchase and renovation of Downtown St. Louis’ historic Security Building to serve as its headquarters, making it the first historic building in Missouri to receive a LEED Silver certification while cementing the firm’s commitment to St. Louis.

Lawrence Group’s high-profile projects have brought much needed attention to St. Louis’ urban core. Such work includes the 2011 redevelopment of Park Pacific, rescuing a critical piece of St. Louis’ downtown real estate and turning it into a robust mixed-use property with a true sense of care for the history it embodies. The firm also led the 2007 redevelopment and design of The Marquette Building, creating St. Louis’ first non-loft, luxury condominium development through thoughtful adaptive reuse practices. As one of the largest historic redevelopments in St. Louis history, Lawrence Group designed City Foundry STL in the growing midtown neighborhood. Developed by New + Found, the $217 million adaptive reuse of former Century Foundry is a “live, work, play” community featuring a food hall, movie theater, shops and more.

“Our passion is creating experiences for the communities and people we serve. We’re architects of human experiences, crafting spaces that nurture healing, inspire learning, ignite curiosity, and foster connection,” said Schnaare.

Looking toward the future, the firm plans continued growth for Lawrence Group as well as its partner organizations, while staying true to its mission: To help our clients realize their dreams.

A large group of employees pose for a photo on an outdoor balcony at City Foundry STL