Architecture and planning heavyweight RTKL, arguably Baltimore's most successful creative venture before independent film director John Waters, has a new home address: Arnhem, the Netherlands. International consulting and engineering giant Arcadis announced the purchase of the privately held firm in July. The deal followed Edinburgh, Scotland–based RMJM Group's purchase of Princeton, N.J.'s Hillier Architecture by only a month (see “Hillier Architecture and RMJM Group Unite,” July 2007, page 18).
Arcadis has been gobbling up international engineering firms at a quick clip in recent years. Its most recent new partners include civil engineering, water, transportation, planning, land development, value engineering, project and construction management, and environmental design firms. “RTKL was the first architectural firm we looked at,” says Arcadis vice president Shannon McDonald, noting that her company intends to continue acquiring businesses related to facilities and buildings.
Arcadis approached RTKL in 2006, not long after the U.S. firm had launched a strategic initiative to strengthen its presence as a global architectural and design practice. Although initially a reluctant target, RTKL saw advantages to a partnership that didn't require it to surrender its own identity. “Our goal is to define a global RTKL brand that goes beyond the ‘one-stop shop' cliché,” says RTKL chairman Paul F. Jacob III. “We anticipate a trend towards this integrated services approach, especially to support the rapidly growing activities of international property investors,” he adds.
RTKL's 1,050 employees work in 10 offices around the globe— Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, London, Madrid, Shanghai, and Tokyo. In 2006, the firm's gross revenue of $194 million placed it sixth among U.S. firms ranked by annual revenue (see “The Meta Rankings,” May 2007, page 106). Recent projects that demonstrate its increasingly widespread large-scale design and planning practice include LA Live at Los Angeles' Staples Center, the Baltimore Waterfront Redevelopment, and the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum in China.
The purchase price was not disclosed, but it is likely the Arcadis/RTKL deal is the largest acquisition of an architecture firm to date, when based on the actual exchange of currency. Peter Piven, author of the influential book Architect's Essentials of Ownership Transition, says the recent sale of a 40 percent stake in Foster + Partners reportedly valued Norman Foster's marquee firm at some $600 million.
RTKL's legacy began with an office opened by Archibald C. Rogers in his grandmother's Annapolis, Md., basement in 1946. After moving to nearby Baltimore, the firm's acronym was adopted in 1968 by a receptionist who stumbled over the tongue-twisting gymnastics required by the firm's penultimate name— Rogers, Taliaferro, Kostritsky, and Lamb. Jacobs insists that Baltimore will continue to be a part of the firm's future.
Piven sees large business conglomerates having an increased interest in acquiring architectural and A/E firms in the United States. “Although it would be premature to describe this as a trend,” he says, “it suggests the possibility, and perhaps the probability, that there will be more such acquisitions in the future.”