The third-annual ARCHITECT 50 is based on data submitted from 120 qualifying firms. Firms invited to participate were selected by ARCHITECT, using editors’ input and lists from past rankings. Other firms could request an invitation form directly. (An advertisement publicizing the ranking appeared in ARCHITECT in time for the launch of the survey.)

The first wave of invitations went out on January 18, 2011. Altogether, more than 265 firms were contacted, and 140 entry forms were received. Third-party market research firm Karlin Associates LLC compiled the ranking.

Weighting procedure

The 2011 ARCHITECT 50 score is based on three variables, each subject to its own weighting procedure: profitability (revenue per number of employees); sustainability (number of LEED projects, percentage of LEED AP staff, etc.); and design quality (number and prestige of awards). To produce the final score, the score for each variable was given approximately equal weight and added together.

Awards

Firms were asked to list the awards received during 2010 and their answers were categorized and reviewed by ARCHITECT editors. There were 16 different awards considered valid. These awards were further categorized into one of seven groups, assigned weights, and compiled. Weights were assigned by ARCHITECT's editorial staff; the final score is the weighted total number of awards a firm received.

NRPE (net revenue per employee)

The NRPE score was calculated by dividing a firm’s 2010 net revenue by the average number of full-time-equivalent employees during the same time period. Net revenue was defined in the survey as "2010 gross revenue minus the cost of project-related subconsultants as well as project-related reimbursable expenses."

Sustainable practices

The sustainability variable, based on answers to four separate questions, reflects a firm's LEED culture as well as its commitment to creating energy-efficient buildings. We asked firms to indicate the percentage of projects both under way and completed in 2010 that were LEED certified or have certification pending. We also asked firms to indicate the percentage of total staff (not just professional staff) who are LEED accredited professionals.

The "energy efficiency" component of the score is based on the percent of a firm's current design projects using energy modeling and the percentage of projects for which energy data was collected (or planned for collection) in the past year.

The midpoints of the ranges were added together to produce the final score.