Chicago’s Architecture Firms Expressed as Coffee Bubbles [u]

One of the wonderful things about living in Chicago is its abundance of coffee shops.  And this past winter, on any day when it was snowing or the Christkindlmarkt was on, you would find me tucked away in the back of the Lavazza store across the street from Block37 working on the mathematical formula I’ve been perfecting most of my adult life:  Laptop+fuzzy scarf+headphones+coffee=Productivity.

Chicago’s architecture firms don’t have the luxury of measuring their productivity in empty cups the way Chicago’s writers do.  Architects have to make money.  And recently Architectural Digest digested just how much money America’s 300 largest architecture firms make.  You can read the full report here.

But for those of you interested just in Chicago, gaze into the handy graphic below.



Yes, it looks like a coffee cup.  But it’s actually a representation of the architecture revenue of Chicago’s top nine firms.  Expressed as bubbles.  Stay with me here.

The large bubble on the left is VOA Associates, which brought in $55.63 million in revenue last year.  To its right is Solomon Cordwell Buenz, which made $54.9 million.  Get it?  Here’s the breakdown:

Bubble Firm Revenue
- Skidmore Owings & Merrill*
See text below
$228.36 million
1 VOA Associates $55.63 million
2 Solomon Cordwell Buenz $54.90 million
3 AS+GG $31.43 million
4 Goettsch Partners $20.12 million
5 Legat Architects $14.31 million
6 Epstein $12.31 million
7 exp US Services $7.42 million
8 FitzGerald Associates $6.02 million

So the coffee cup above is an illustration of the relative sizes of the city’s nine top architecture firms.  So, why the cup?  Because it’s a very effective way of illustrating disparity.  You see, the cup is Perkins+Will.

Perkins and Will brought in $356.36 million last year.  Half an order of magnitude more than #2 VOA.  How do you illustrate that?  I tried pie charts.  I tried line graphs.  I even tried some cute things with tall cranes and big fish eating small fish.  But the coffee cup just works.

So next time all you P+W people tank up on caffeine, be proud that you’re not just the biggest bubble in the cup.  You are the cup.

But don’t let that cup say “#1 Dad.”  Last I heard, having personal objects on your work desks was verboten.

Update: August 13, 2014 @ 11:00am

Regular Chicago Architecture Blog reader Brianbobcat noted that one of the world’s highest-profile architecture firms doesn’t have a bubble: Skidmore Owings & Merrill.  While many in the Chicago architecture fan community consider SOM to be a hometown company, according to Architectural Digest, its headquarters is actually in New York.  We’ve sent an e-mail to SOM for clarification.  Until we hear back, SOM is represented by the coffee cup watermark on the table.

Update: August 13, 2014 @ 12:30pm

SOM’s “Digital Editor”, a nice guy named Alex wrote back to us with words firmly entrenched in “neither confirm nor deny” mode.  Here’s what he wrote:

Technically speaking, SOM has moved away from conducting our business via headquarters. We prefer to state that the firm maintains offices in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., London, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Mumbai, and Abu Dhabi.

If you read between the lines it says (our words, not his):

Yeah, we moved out of Chicago a while ago.  We’re in New York now.  Sorry about that.  We were hoping to fly under the radar for a while because we really really like Chicago, and don’t want anyone there to be mad at us.

So, SOM won’t say one way or the other.  Fortunately, the New York Secretary of State is more than happy to let us know the truth:

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at Wednesday, 13 August, 2014 @ 10.24.46 am PDT

The key words here are on the Entity Type line: “DOMESTIC REGISTERED.”  That means SOM is a New York company, not a Chicago company, and has been since 1996.  If it was a Chicago company with a New York office, the line would read “FOREIGN REGISTERED.”  Need more?  Look at the Principal Executive Office section.  Still not enough?  OK, let’s get a second opinion from the Illinois Secretary of State’s office:

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at Wednesday, 13 August, 2014 @ 10.31.27 am PDT

As you can see, there is no “SKIDMORE, OWINGS & MERRILL LLP” in Illinois.

But what about all those other SOM-sounding names?  The “Foundation” is in Chicago.  “International” is New York.  The rest are either Delaware or old records for companies that no longer exist.

So, there you have it.  Time for all of the city’s architectural tour guides to update their speeches: SOM is not a Chicago company, and hasn’t been for almost 20 years.



Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at

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