How were the Architect 50 firms identified and ranked? Firms’ scores were based on an online survey that one or more of their employees completed. Our initial goal—to get hundreds of leading firms to participate—required a multi-pronged approach. First, the editors of Architect put together a “core list” of firms we thought deserved consideration, based on their standard of work and (yes) their inclusion in other industry rankings. This list had 229 firms.

To cast the net wider, we invited 16,000 randomly chosen subscribers to our e-newsletter to take the survey. And we placed an ad in our December 2008 issue inviting readers to do the same. By these two methods, we identified another 520 firms, for a total of 749. The survey was open from Dec. 16 to March 13 and offered the incentive of a $2 donation to Architecture for Humanity per each completion. (The donation will be made in June.)

Foreign-based firms, engineering-led firms, and sole-proprietor firms were eliminated (sorry, folks!), and before long, we had 334 firms, then 165. The Architect 50 was drawn from this last group of 165. The editors made valiant attempts to verify survey data with the communications departments of all 165 companies, but it’s possible that a few eluded us.

These 165 companies were then ranked on three variables: revenue per employee (based on 2008 gross revenue), sustainable practices, and 2008 awards. Each variable drew on objective information supplied via the online survey; in the case of awards, firms could be given a limited number of additional points after review by an editor.

For the revenue per employee variable, we simply divided revenue (survey respondents indicated a revenue range) by employees (also given as a range). For sustainable practices, we used several variables from the survey, such as percentage of LEED projects in 2008 and green policies, to come up with an overall score.

As for awards, we compiled a list of as many as we could think of, then gave a points value to each one, according to its prestige (as we perceived it). Foreign awards were not considered, nor were “top firm” accolades in other publications.

Research for the Architect 50 was conducted by the indefatigable Neil Karlin, principal of the research consultancy Karlin Associates, in consultation with the magazine’s editorial staff.