For Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture (AS+GG), ranked first overall and first in the business category, years of hard work paid off in a big way in 2014. AS+GG completed its first two megabuildings, the FKI Tower in Seoul, South Korea, and the Waldorf Astoria Beijing, and undertook a massive project for the Astana Expo City 2017 in Kazakhstan, including the design of a comprehensive master plan and 19 buildings. The Expo City, fueled by renewable energy, will become a permanent part of the city’s infrastructure and provide a center for building research. “Astana was done in one year because it had to get out the door quickly and get constructed by the end of 2016,” says firm co-founder and partner Adrian Smith, FAIA. The project helped boost firm revenue by 313 percent over the previous year.

While 2014 was a great year for the Chicago-based firm, partner Robert Forest, FAIA, says, “It didn’t sneak up on us. We’ve had a tremendous amount of work since opening nine years ago, and last year saw the culmination of a lot of things.”

Projects like Astana, for example, benefited from extensive research that began in earnest during the global economic crisis. “We had a tremendous amount of work in Dubai in 2008,” Smith says. “We had 23 projects on the boards, all large, and then the crash hit in October.” The firm decided to focus some of its staff on the question of how buildings might better meet the goals of the 2030 Challenge, and in 2012 it published the book Toward Zero Carbon: The Chicago Central Area DeCarbonization Plan. Today, the firm dedicates 20 percent of its profits to research.

Gordon Gill, Adrian Smith, and Robert Forest
Gordon Gill, Adrian Smith, and Robert Forest
AS+GG has also started taking on new project types. “We have quietly built up the firm on a number of levels,” says co-founder and partner Gordon Gill, FAIA. “We have eight or so theaters and museums right now.”

For all of AS+GG’s success last year, the partners have no intentions of growing the business too much. Everything still comes through the Chicago headquarters. “Often, we’ve been asked, ‘Why don’t you have more offices?’ ” says Gill. “The reason is because we believe in a manageable approach to the quality of design. The three of us are involved in every single project from day one to the last day.”

With four other supertall towers in the works, the challenge now, the partners say, is maintaining the perception that all clients are welcome. “We’ve had people say things like, ‘We have now gotten to the point where we believe we can come and talk to you about a project because it’s big enough.’ The myth of that is that we are not interested in the size of the project; we’re interested in the quality. Even if it’s a small project, we care about the quality of it,” Gill says.

Top 50 Firms in Business

Find out which firms made the overall list, and discover who made the cut in sustainability and design. To find out how we generated the rankings, read our methodology, and take a look at some of the data submitted by firms