ARCHITECT advertised the ARCHITECT 50 program in print and online, and also sent direct invitations to firms that either requested entry forms or that had been invited to participate in previous years. In all, 136 firms qualified. Data was from the 2015 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 fact-checked. Karlin Research, a third-party research firm based in New York City, compiled the ranking and assured the confidentiality of the data.

The ARCHITECT 50 ranking is based on scores in three separate categories, with data weighted as follows:


50% Net revenue per employee 

20% Profitability (positive change in net revenue from 2013)

15% Business practices, including the percentage of women and minority designers, percentage of new full-time positions, and voluntary staff turnover rate 

15% Employee benefits, including insurance, ARE benefits, stock options, and the value and scope of other fringe benefits


38% Participation in the AIA’s 2030 Commitment program, submittal of a report of predicted energy use of all active projects to the AIA in 2015, percentage of predicted energy use intensity reduction from the national average reported, and percentage of gross square footage of projects in design during calendar year 2015 that were demonstrated through energy modeling to meet or exceed 2030 energy targets

13% Energy and water metrics: the percentage of gross square footage of a firm’s projects that achieved a 20% reduction or greater in regulated potable water use than the standards of the U.S. Energy Policy Act of 1992 and that incorporated energy modeling or daylighting studies, as well as a firm’s approach towards resilient design

22% The percentage of a firm’s design employees with Living Future, Certified Passive House, WELL, Green Globes, Green Roof Professional, or LEED AP or Green Associate credentials (and the specialty LEED credentials represented at the firm), as well as the percentage increase in salary given to employees who achieve LEED AP accreditation

18% Green building certifications for projects completed in 2014 (points awarded on a sliding scale for projects that achieved various LEED, Living Building Challenge, Green Globes, Net Zero, Green Guide for Health Care, Energy Star, and Passive House certifications)

9% A score for the green project that best demonstrated a firm’s commitment to sustainability (scoring by ARCHITECT editors)


72% A design portfolio, scored individually by three judges whose numbers were combined to create an overall score

14% Licensure, as measured by the percentage of designers licensed in their respective fields, the average percentage increase in salary upon licensure, and how the firm mentors young designers

7% Pro bono work, as measured by participation in Public Architecture’s 1+ program, the percentage of billable hours dedicated to pro bono, and the scope of the pro bono work

4% Design awards, including awards issued by architect, the AIA, ASLA, and other prominent institutions

3% Research, as measured by the percentage of profits invested in it and its scope and significance 

The weight assigned to each data point was formulated after consulting with industry experts. After the scores were tabulated in each of the three categories, they were rescaled. The top ranking firm in each of the three categories was assigned a score of 100. The rest of the firms’ scores in each of the three categories then were 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. The 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. Any ties in the overall list were broken using the scores ARCHITECT editors gave to the essays firms submitted about why they deserved to make the Top 50.

Check out the list to find out which firms rose to the top,and discover who made the cut in each of the three categories: business, sustainability, and design.

Read more about top firms William Rawn Associates (business), ZGF (overall and sustainability), and Marlon Blackwell Architects (design).

Also check out some key data submitted by firms.