So, is it getting any better? In the third year of the ARCHITECT 50 ranking, signs of a rebound glimmer on the horizon. March was the fifth consecutive month in which the Architecture Billings Index showed positive (albeit very modest) growth, and inquiries to firms regarding new projects are strong. If most U.S. architecture firms are not thriving, at least some of them—25 percent, the AIA estimates—have gotten a boost through projects stemming from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
The 2011 ARCHITECT 50—based on a
composite assessment of a firm’s profitability, sustainable ethos, and
design ability—shows that A and A/E firms, large and small, can
do well in this economy. By our calculations, the most profitable firms
in 2010 include heavyweights such as Fentress Architects, NBBJ, and
Gensler, but also Princeton, N.J.’s smaller Ikon.5 Architects. If you
still need proof that smart business strategy and careful financial
management can make or break any design enterprise, look no further.
the most striking thing about this year’s ranking is how many of the
top firms are focused on the higher-education market. Aren’t we always
hearing about colleges and universities feeling the pinch? Yes, says
management consultant Ray Kogan, AIA, but there are other factors at
work. Higher-education institutions “are in their own competitive market
as they try hard to attract more students to make up for their other
Ever-tighter public budgets, healthcare
reform, and continued sluggishness in commercial construction leave much
unclear about the future, so it’s difficult to say which markets might
be on the rise. Then again, that means the field is wide open for our
2012 ranking. Wherever you are based, and whatever kind of work you do,
why not enter next year?