The American Institute of Architects (AIA) has unveiled its list of the 50 best architecture practices within the United States for the current year.
For its 2014 Architect 50 in ARCHITECT magazine, the AIA's panel has judged Cleveland based Westlake Reed Leskosky number one, ahead of William Rawn Associates and Gensler. ZGF Architects and EYP Architecture & Engineering round out the top five.
One of only three firms from last year’s top 10 to also make the top 10 this year, Westlake replaces San Francisco based WRNS studio – who topped the list last year but failed to make the top 50 this year – and also took out the top award for Best Architecture Business.
Published annually, the list aims to capture practices which excel not just in terms of financial performance but also their broader impact on the profession in areas such as sustainability and commitment to assisting the younger generation of designers.
While some on the list have operate around the world – Gensler, for example, serves 2,491 clients across 112 different countries – medium sized outfits such as Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill (three partners and around 120 staff) were not left out.
A number of the top firms have long histories and have evolved over time.
Westlake, for example, is almost 110 years old - although the firm spent most of its life as a Cleveland based architecture practice before opening new offices and branching out into areas such as engineering and building modelling services in 1997. Nineteenth-ranked HDR (ranked number two in business), meanwhile, started in 1917 as a water and electricity based engineering outfit and added architectural services, resource management, transportation and community planning over the following two decades.
Asked about principles behind his firm’s success, Paul E. Westlake Jr., FAIA, said Westlake’s aforementioned 1997 decision to broaden its outlook was crucial and allowed the firm to offer a ‘one-stop-shop’ to clients.
“Our philosophy was to get away from the patriarchy of architecture and to embrace the idea that all disciplines are important,” Westlake was quoted as saying in ARCHITECT magazine. “When we do a performing arts project now, we do the architecture, plumbing, IP data, lighting, acoustics, engineering … we do everything.”
Research and workforce development, too, could not be overlooked. In 2013, for example, Westlake poured around 60 per cent of its profits back into research, while the firm’s associates are rewarded with an automatic 10 per cent salary ‘bump’ upon licensure and every staff member has a five-year plan.
“They (employees) love that they can look ahead and it’s not a mystery how they are going to grow in the firm,” Westlake said. “The most important assets of any firm are the people.”
Outside of Westlake, EYP took out top spot for sustainability whilst 25th based NADAA was ranked number one in the design category.