Extensive research and rigorous assessments of the scale, location, structure and orientation of sites are crucial aspects of success within the design business according to a principal at the top US design firm.

Unveiling the top firms in the Best in Design category for its 2014 Architect 50, the Institute’s ARCHITECT magazine named Boston-based NADAA as the top design firm, edging out the American branch of German-based Behnisch Architekten. Payette, Westlake Reed Leskosky and Skidmore Owings and Merrill rounded out the top five.

Consisting of three partners and 25 staff, according to world-architects Office Profiles Architects, NADAAA boasts a range of projects across the United States, France, China, South Korea and Australia, and has earned itself an enviable reputation for quality.

Its Hinman Research Building rehabilitation completed in 2011 bagged no fewer than 16 industry awards and was noted for transforming an important piece of Georgia Tech’s built heritage into a flexible new ‘annex’ for the school’s College of Architecture with new studio, lab, classroom and research space.

At Melbourne University in Australia, meanwhile, the firm served as the joint architect of the recently opened Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning building comprising of six levels and incorporating two lecture theatres, a workshop, a library, two exhibition spaces, a cafe, a series of studios over three levels, a studio hall, and a series of associated academic and professional workspaces.

aia top design firm

Dan Gallagher, one of the firm’s principals, said the keys to success revolve around the degree of care taken with each project.

“At the base of all of our work, regardless of scale and location, is the rigorous analysis of place, of material, of program, of structure, of orientation,” he said. “This makes us less of a conventional firm, perhaps, in that we don’t specialise in one type of project. Rather, it is the rigor of our process that carries through. And that can manifest itself in different programs.”

Katherine Faulkner, another partner at the firm, said a recently added in-house shop that allows for prototyping, modeling, and fabricating custom elements for projects allows the architects to test unusual forms and materials and prove feasibility to builders and clients.

She says NADAAA is “quite muscular” on the delivery end, and considers aspects such as client management and project execution to be an extended part of the design process.

In its judgement, the design category jury complemented NADAAA on its handling of materials and structural form to shape light and connect to each site.