• Left to right: Epstein's executive managing directors John Patelski, Jim Jirsa, and Michael Damore

    Credit: Joe Pugliese

    Left to right: Epstein's executive managing directors John Patelski, Jim Jirsa, and Michael Damore

Chicago-based Epstein topped the ARCHITECT 50 calculation of most profitable firms in 2009—an unexpected distinction during the worst economy in memory. The 220-person firm today has offices in Chicago, New York, Warsaw, and Bucharest: one fewer than at the start of 2009. The firm closed its Los Angeles office when work there dried up. “It was the perfect time for that type of decision,” says executive managing director Michael Damore.

One of the older firms in the country—it was founded in 1921—Epstein offers a wide spread of services, including architecture; interiors and graphics; civil, M/E/P, and structural engineering; and construction. “Diversity is our culture,” Damore says. It’s been a fully employee-owned firm since 2006, through an employee stock ownership plan. Which means, Damore says, that “all our employees have some skin in the game.”

Commercial, industrial, and public-sector projects have formed the core of Epstein’s work since its founding. “You get an interesting mix of voices,” says Noel Abbott, vice president and director of marketing and public relations. “You can [try to] do it with consultants, but they’re not here.” The 2009 passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA; see article on p. 18 of this issue) helped fuel the firm’s recent revenue. “Infrastructure has given us a boost,” Abbott says. He points to the firm’s work for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) as a direct result of ARRA. “We’re a great firm for an entity like the VA, that doesn’t want to get bogged down with all the consultants. We do it all—architecture, interiors, civil, structural.”

Andrew Metter of Epstein | Metter Studio is the firm’s go-to architect for the more high-end designs that regularly bring accolades. His Serta International Headquarters in Hoffman Estates, Ill. (featured in ARCHITECT, September 2009, and honored with a citation in our Annual Design Review, November 2009), played a role in Epstein’s overall ranking of eighth place. “Andy’s work is front and center when we’re in the news for design,” Abbott says. Damore notes that Epstein gets awards from collaborations with other firms as well. “Architect of record services are a large part of Epstein’s business,” he says. And not just for the award recognition: “It’s profitable.”

The future looks bright, too. Epstein is currently working with Murphy/Jahn on a fully financed condominium tower in Warsaw—a rare residential project in a still unsteady American and European economy. A new runway at O’Hare International Airport is moving ahead as well. These are all part of a diversified approach that’s helping Epstein glide through bumpy times.


Top 10: Profitable

1. Epstein
Chicago
Revenue range: $100–$199.9 million; Revenue per employee score: 471

2. Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architects
Chicago
Revenue range: $100–$199.9 million; Revenue per employee: 471

3. Fentress Architects
Denver
Revenue range: $100–$199.9 million; Revenue per employee: 471

4. McLarand Vasquez Emsiek & Partners
Irvine, Calif.
Revenue range: $40–$49.9 million; Revenue per employee: 330

5. Frank Harmon Architect
Raleigh, N.C. 
Revenue range: $1–$2.4 million; Revenue per employee: 321

6. CO Architects
Los Angeles
Revenue range: $30–$39.9 million; Revenue per employee: 257

7. Ellerbe Becket, An AECOM Company
Minneapolis
Revenue range: $100–$199.9 million; Revenue per employee: 220

8. ZGF Architects
Portland, Ore.
Revenue range: $100–$199.9 million; Revenue per employee: 220

9. HKS
Dallas
Revenue range: $200–$349.9 million; Revenue per employee: 202

10. NBBJ
Seattle
Revenue range: $200–$349.9 million; Revenue per employee: 202