One of the nation's largest multioffice architecture firms, NBBJ, based in Seattle, announced today that it is merging with the well-regarded and far smaller architecture and urban design office of Chan Krieger Sieniewicz (CKS), of Cambridge, Mass.

It is not a shotgun marriage, says Scott Wyatt, managing partner of NBBJ. The two firms have been discussing a merger for the past six months or so, having collaborated for three years on a large project for Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. "The culture of our firms is incredibly close," Wyatt says, "and the complementary strengths made us say, 'Wow, this would be pretty great.'"

Wyatt says that NBBJ is especially drawn to the strengths of CKS's urban design and urban planning practice. "Their dedication to creating great urban environments is a tremendous boost to us," he says, "and it opens up more of the Northeast to NBBJ."

The combined firm will have about 700 employees. For now, the CKS office will take the name Chan Krieger NBBJ. The five CKS principals retain that title within NBBJ, and Wyatt says, "every one of their employees will be employees of NBBJ."

Wyatt describes NBBJ as having a very flat organizational structure based around studios that have a high degree of autonomy. In Cambridge, "the structure won't look a lot different, but the capability will," Wyatt says. He declined to give financial details of the merger, except that future work will fall under the NBBJ name and existing work and accounts receivable will likely remain separate.

Alex Krieger, who co-founded CKS in the mid-1980s with Lawrence Chan, says that other large firms have tried in the past to merge with their office. "We've resisted all those advances," he says. In this case, however, "both sides see advantages."*

Unlike some other large design firms, such as AECOM, NBBJ is not on a merger or acquisition binge, Wyatt says. "We have observed a few firms going through a substantial acquisition strategy. That is not ours," he says. "We focus a lot on [the firm's] culture. It's not the only way to succeed, but it's the way we prefer." The last firm NBBJ acquired, he notes, was his own, Wyatt Architects, and that was in 1991.

* Updated March 16, 2010.