How do we determine who makes the list? Each year, ARCHITECT makes an open call for submissions and sends direct invitations to firms that have requested entries or participated in the past. This cycle, 134 firms submitted valid entries for the 46-question survey, providing data from the 2011 fiscal year. Because the data is self-reported, we check for consistency, identify outliers, and check the facts. Karlin Associates LLC, a third-party research firm based in New York City, compiled the ranking and assured the confidentiality of the data.

Overall Score
The overall ranking is based on scores in three separate categories: business, sustainability, and design excellence/pro bono. Questions in each category are formulated in consultation with industry experts and practitioners. Each question is assigned a weight based on its perceived importance and on the distribution of firm responses. Firms earn points per question based on how well they perform relative to their counterparts. The three categories are then scored separately. (A possible score of 100 is assigned to each category based on a firm achieving a perfect score in all of the component questions.) The scores from the three categories are then added up to produce a final tally for each firm. That number is then normalized, with the top firm scoring 100.

Business Score
The financial category straightforwardly measures a firm’s net revenue per employee and change in net revenue from fiscal year 2010.

Sustainability Score
The sustainability category measures the percentage of a firms’ projects that are LEED certified or designed to LEED standards; that are certified in other design programs, such as Energy Star and Living Building Challenge; that pursued a potable water-use reduction target beyond what is mandated by code; and that incorporated energy modeling, with firms earning extra credit for collecting energy data and investigating discrepancies with the model. Other data points included the percentage of employees with LEED AP and GA credentials; a firm’s commitment to sustainability in its own office, such as having a timeline for purchasing 100 percent green power; and participation in the AIA’s 2030 program, including the percentage of overall gross square footage designed to 2030 standards.

Design Excellence/Pro Bono Score
The design excellence and pro bono category measures the awards won by firms, including AIA and ARCHITECT magazine awards, as well as their commitment to pro bono work, measured by participation in Public Architecture’s 1% program as well as the percentage of billable hours that were dedicated to pro bono work. Other data points include the percentage of repeat clients, employee benefits such as a defined pension plan and paid family leave, and the scope and range of employees’ civic engagement as university professors and board and commission members.

To read the rest of our 2012 ARCHITECT 50 coverage, click here.