When San Francisco–based WRNS Studio nabbed the top spot on the Architect 50 list for the first time, in 2013, the firm was just eight years old and 60 employees large, and had recently completed what would prove to be a transformational project: a new campus in Lehi, Utah, for tech giant Adobe. “This burgeoning firm has nowhere to go but up,” predicted one critic back then.
That prediction was prescient. WRNS has now become only the second firm to earn the number one overall ranking twice. (Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, which did it last year, was the first.) WRNS’s growth has been remarkable: Today the firm has 180 employees, with offices in San Francisco, Honolulu, New York, and Seattle. In 2017 alone, WRNS added 44 employees; the firm also enjoyed a 19 percent increase in net revenue from 2016. The Adobe project helped position the firm as a go-to architect for the tech world, and WRNS has since completed (or is working on) high-profile office projects for Airbnb, Intuit, and Microsoft.
Even with the firm’s rapid growth, WRNS has stayed true to its core values, says Sam Nunes, AIA, who founded the firm with Jeff Warner, AIA, John Ruffo, FAIA, and Bryan Shiles, FAIA. “Our projects end up being a manifestation of our enormous curiosity about the world,” he says. “We strive for our work to be socially responsible. We understand that architecture has a great impact on people’s lives, and that it can do a whole lot of good if done properly.”
John King, urban design critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, says that “there’s a general high level of consistency in their work that I appreciate. There’s always a certain clarity and rigor to their buildings.”
Among WRNS’s recent projects: a cube-like screening room, with a perforated aluminum skin, in San Francisco for Dolby Laboratories; a LEED Platinum–targeted wellness center at San Francisco State University; the Collision Lab at Cornell Tech on New York City’s Roosevelt Island; and a student center at Sonoma Academy in Santa Rosa, Calif., which won an AIA COTE Top Ten award and is on track for Living Building Challenge Energy and Materials Petal certification.
With two of the firm’s founding partners, Warner and Ruffo, slated for retirement next year, WRNS seems poised for change. Not to worry, insists Nunes. “This place is in constant transition,” he says. “That’s the way it’s set up. There’s always a bit of the old and bit of the new at any one time.”