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2009 Top Design Firms

Design firms say they had a good 2008. But with the recession in full swing in 2009, those same design firms are making more cautious plans while refocusing on quality and their strengths

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It’s important to note that the 2009 Top Design Firms ranking for California Construction tracks 2008 revenue for design firms doing business in the state.

No. 5 Gensler is designing the renovation of SanFrancisco International Airport’s Terminal 2.
HMC Architects designed Hillcrest High School in Riverside.
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Because while 2008 revenues for most firms were stable and solid compared with previous years, revenue figures for 2009 and 2010 – due to the recession – are expected to be less certain for design firms.

To weather the shift in the economy, the architects and designers interviewed for this story are becoming more cautious, recommitting to quality and focusing on their strengths.

Like others in the construction field, design firms are finding increased competition for projects. Where once only a handful of firms pursued a project, now dozens are competing for the same work.

But the competitive marketplace has spurred firms such as Santa Monica-based WWCOT to be more selective about which projects the firm pursues, says Adrian Cohen, FAIA, partner.

“We now go after fewer projects, but projects we believe we have a chance of getting,” Cohen says.

Pursuing fewer projects also means developing relationships with clients WWCOT has worked with before, he adds.

“If you do not have pre-existing relationships with clients, it’s very difficult,” Cohen says.

One of the biggest challenges facing design firms is that many owners – both private and public – are not currently funding projects.

“It’s not like our clients don’t have money – they just don’t know whether they should spend it or not,” Cohen says.

State officials, managing billion-dollar budget shortfalls, have also limited or delayed construction projects throughout the state.

Working with the state presents another obstacle for the construction industry, says Robert Ludden, principal/COO of San Francisco-based KMD Architects.

“The challenge for California is where are you are going to spend the limited funds you have – how you are going to prioritize,” Ludden says.

Sacramento-based Lionakis has had a project delayed because of the state’s budget issues, says Matthew Shigihara, AIA, principal.

“We don’t know when it’s coming out,” Shigihara says.

As work dries up and design firms begin to watch their costs, architects say service and vision become even more important.

Although NTD Architecture has had to eliminate some positions and watch operating costs since the recession began, the firm is not planning to move into new waters, says Jon Baker, FAIA, partner with NTD.

“We are not going to move into areas where we can’t bring the expertise our clients expect from us,” Baker says. “We are continuing to focus on our market areas.”

Weighing the demands of service and steady work versus...


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