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 participated in previous years. In all, 182 firms qualified. Data was from the 2018 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: design, sustainability, and business. To see which data points were used to generate scores in each category, see below.


14% Licensure, as measured by the percentage of designers licensed in their respective fields, the average percentage increase in salary or bonus paid 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 and prominent institutions such as the AIA and the ASLA

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

72% A design portfolio, scored individually by three judges: Lawrence Scarpa, FAIA, Dan Wood, FAIA, and Jennifer Newsom, AIA (see their bios here). Their scores were combined to create an overall score.


49% Net revenue per employee

12% Profitability (positive change in net revenue from 2017)

24% Business practices, including the percentage of women and minority designers and principals, the firm’s approach to diversifying its staff, the percentage of new full-time positions, and voluntary staff turnover rate

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


18% 2030 Commitment: Participation in AIA’s 2030 Commitment program, submittal of a report of predicted energy use of active projects to AIA in 2018, percentage of predicted energy use intensity reduction and predicted lighting power density reduction from the baseline reported, and whether those two submitted percentages represented an improvement over the numbers submitted in 2017

18% Energy and water metrics: Percentage of the total square footage of projects that were in design during 2018 that met or exceeded the 2030 energy target (70% better than a baseline building as measured by the 2003 Commercial Building Energy Consumption Survey or the 2001 Residential Energy Consumption Survey) and percentage of the total gross square footage of interior design projects that were in design during 2018 that met or exceeded the 2030 target (25% improvement in lighting power density—LPD—as measured by the baseline established by ASHRAE 90.1 v2007); percentage of the total square footage of projects that were in design during 2018 that achieved a 20% reduction or greater in regulated potable water use than the standards of the U.S. Energy Policy Act of 1992; that incorporated simulated energy modeling to determine the energy use impacts of the project, and the percentage of those projects that used modeling during the conceptual or schematic design phase of the project; that used daylight simulation modeling to reduce energy consumption by electric lighting or enhance occupant health or comfort; that used life-cycle assessments as a tool for reducing the embodied carbon footprint of a project or that took into account embodied carbon when making material selections; for completed projects with sufficient energy data available, the percentage for which firms gathered data to see if they were meeting the project goals and/or predicted performance; and finally, a firm’s approach toward resilient design, the use of material ingredients reporting to avoid chemicals of concern when sourcing materials, the approach to reducing embodied carbon in a project, and the scope of post-occupancy work

6% Employee certifications: The percentage of a firm’s design employees with Living Future, 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

20% Building certifications: Points awarded on a sliding scale for projects that in 2018 were registered or certified for LEED, Living Building Challenge, Green Globes, Net Zero, Green Guide for Health Care, Energy Star, Passive House, and other leading certifications

38% A score for the green project that best demonstrated a firm’s commitment to sustainability and how it is an inherent part of the design process in three areas: energy, materials, and site ecology. Projects were scored individually by two judges, Jean Carroon, FAIA, and Margaret Montgomery, FAIA (see their bios here), and their scores were combined to create an overall score.

The weight assigned to each data point was formulated after consulting with industry experts. Using the weights, scores were calculated and then normalized so the top-scoring firm in each of the three categories would equal 100. The overall ranking was created by adding together the normalized scores from the three categories. Those scores were also then normalized, with the top firm given an overall total of 100.

Each firm’s performance was calculated relative to the performance of other firms. The firm with an overall score of 100, 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 based on which firm achieved the better design ranking.

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