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Architectural Firms Plot Comeback for Themselves, Clients

While Orange County’s architects reported the past year wasn’t great in terms of new business, they are optimistic about this coming year.

“We are seeing things pick up like crazy,” Anne Bretaña, co-managing director of Gensler Newport Beach, told the Business Journal.

“We’ve got a lot of building repositioning work as a result of the pandemic. Clients want to strengthen their connections to outdoor amenities like retractable doors, outdoor meeting places, for their employees to get fresh air. They want to entice people back to their buildings.”

The largest architectural firms operating in Orange County reported their billings fell 1.1% to $456.1 million for the year ended June 30, according to the Business Journal’s annual list.

The list ranks 22 architecture firms that hit the Business Journal’s baseline of at least $4 million in local billings.

Irvine-based LPA Inc., No. 3 on the list, saw its OC billing decline 8.6% to $55.1 million. Still, it’s also optimistic about this coming year.

“The opportunities are tremendous,” Chief Executive Wendy Rogers told the Business Journal, pointing to clients who want to address the safety of their employees and students.

Only seven of the 22 firms reported year-over-year increases in business, almost half of the 13 that did so last year. By contrast, 11 reported a decline in bookings versus nine a year ago.

Unlike prior years, only four firms reported billings topping 10%, versus six firms a year ago. Two years ago, 17 firms climbed more than 10%.

The companies on the list reported a small increase of two OC licensed architects for a total of 385.

The firms reported slower growth outside of OC as that revenue fell 9.8% to $1.86 billion.

While architecture firms on the list saw a drop in work in the past year, the Business Journal’s engineering firm list on page 27 shows growth—3.1%, which pales in comparison to 6% in 2020 and 13% in 2019.

Notables

• The fastest grower was No. 15 tBP/Architecture Inc. of Newport Beach, which saw growth of 47% to $8.9 million.

• Ware Malcomb of Irvine climbed to the top spot by reporting a 32% increase to $80.6 million.

• Architects Orange, which held the No. 1 spot for the prior two years, fell to No. 2 as billings declined 2.5% to $62.8 million.

• The biggest decline was 41% to $6.2 million at Irvine-based TCA Architects Inc.

• LPA’s companywide billings also fell 8.7%, to $98 million.

“Many of our clients had a tough time navigating COVID,” Rogers said, noting clients such as K-12 schools were particularly hard hit and in “chaos.”

The firm survived by having nine different market disciplines, she said.

“We’ve seen new growth in our healthcare practice and continued steady work in education and commercial and workplace, which was a surprise. Workplace was hit really hard.”

She said the company’s proud of its work for Edwards Lifesciences and winning the American Institute of Architects California’s highest award, which is typically presented to one firm a year for consistently producing “distinguished architecture for a period of at least 10 years.”

• Gensler Newport Beach, which has headquarters in San Francisco, saw its OC bookings fall 21% to $28 million.

“Like everyone else, we definitely were impacted by covid across the board,” Bretaña said. “We had plenty of projects go on hold. Our workplace projects were hit harder than some of the others.”

The firm, which traditionally worked on offices and retail banks, has diversified in recent years to healthcare and education, she said.

“It truly helped up during the impact,” Bretaña noted.

It’s been working on projects for Hoag, Saddleback College, Irvine Valley College and the University of California, Irvine.

“One of the more shocking things is aviation lounge work—a lot is coming back,” she said. “They took this opportunity to start working while the airports are not busy.” 

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