ARCHITECT advertised the ARCHITECT 50 program in the magazine and on the website, and sent invitations to firms that requested entries as well as to firms that had been invited in previous years. In all, 152 firms qualified to participate in the ranking.

All data was from the 2012 fiscal year and was self-reported. Projects completed or in progress during the calendar year were included. Data was checked for consistency, and outliers were identified and fact checked. Karlin Associates LLC, a third-party research firm based in New York City, compiled the ranking and assured the confidentiality of the data.

Scoring the ARCHITECT 50 ranking is based on scores in three separate categories:

Net revenue per employee (counting only architecture and design-related revenue and staff), which counted for 65 percent of the total category score
Profitability (positive change in net revenue from 2011): 8 percent
The percentage of profits invested in research (a discretionary score was also awarded based on a firm’s research work): 12 percent
A firm’s commitment to pro bono work, measured by participation in Public Architecture’s 1% program and the percentage of a firm’s billable hours that were dedicated to pro bono work: 15 percent

The percentage of gross square footage of a firm’s projects that were LEED certified or designed to LEED standards, which counted for 20 percent of the total category score
The percentage that achieved certification in other sustainability programs, including Energy Star and Living Building Challenge (a discretionary score was awarded for the types and scope of net-zero projects): 15 percent
The percentage that pursued a potable water reduction beyond what was mandated by code or that incorporated energy modeling, with additional credit being given for the percentage for which energy data was collected: 40 percent
Participation in the AIA’s 2030 program and percentage of the gross square footage of projects that were designed to 2030 standards: 15 percent
Percentage of a firm’s employees with LEED AP or GA credentials: 10 percent

Design Excellence

For the first time this year, the architect 50 survey included the submission of a design portfolio. A panel of judges, chosen by architect, graded each anonymous portfolio individually to create an overall portfolio score, which counted for 60 percent of the design excellence score.
The category also measured design awards won, including awards granted by architect, the AIA, and ASLA, as well as other urban design and historic preservation awards: 15 percent
The percentage of total employees who were licensed architects: 10 percent
A discretionary score for the number and type of teaching positions that a firm’s employees held at architecture schools: 15 percent

Design Judges

John Peterson, AIA, is the founder and president of Public Architecture, which mobilizes designers to drive social change. The nonprofit has built a network of over 16,000 design professionals, providing $45 million of pro bono services annually across the country. The principal of Peterson Architects in San Francisco, he was a Loeb Fellow at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. 

Merrill Elam, AIA, is a principal at Atlanta-based Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects. She has taught, lectured, and served as a design critic at countless institutions, including Yale, the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, and SCI-Arc. With Mack Scogin, she received the 2012 Cooper-Hewitt National Design Award for Architecture.

Stephen Chung, AIA, is a Boston-based architect. In 2009, Casas Internacional published a monograph dedicated to his residential projects. Chung has taught at such institutions as Syracuse, Cornell, RISD, and Yale. He is the host for a public television series titled Cool Spaces: The Best New Architecture (see

Total Score

Each data point in the three categories was assigned a weight, formulated after consulting with architects and other industry experts. After the scores were tabulated in each of the three categories, they were rescaled so that the top ranking firm in each category was assigned a score of 100, with the rest of the firms’ scores then recalculated as a percentage of the top score.

Finally, a firm’s scores in each of the three categories were added together to create the overall ranking. Those scores were also normalized, with the top firm given an overall total of 300, and all the other firms’ scores calculated as a percentage of the top score.

Each firm’s performance was calculated relative to the performance of other firms. A firm with an overall score of 300, for example, did not necessarily top out on every indicator and category; it accumulated the highest composite score.

See all the ARCHITECT 50 results here.