How Many Design Firms Have Gone Under in This Recession?

It seems no one knows exactly how many architectural and engineering firms have closed in the US since the start of the recent recession.

It is common knowledge in AEC that countless firms have closed their doors during the current recession, but it seems no one can say exactly how many.

One of the last projects from New Jersey architecture firm Cubellis was the Challenger Learning Center in Mount Laurel Township.

I don’t think that anyone tracks this information systematically,” says Kermit Baker, chief economist for the American Institute of Architects. As he told The Zweig Letter, “A few months ago, we asked our Work-on-the-Boards panel to estimate how many firms in their area had gone under, and what share that was off all firms in their area. The ballpark, as I recollect, was that somewhere between 5% and 10% of firms have closed down. This was a very crude estimate but I was curious as to the general range. I’m not sure how to get a more accurate estimate.”

Given the often-quoted estimate pointing to the existence of more than 20,000 architecture firms in the U.S. (The AIA lists 18,500 member-owned architecture firms in its membership, but the number of firms is certainly higher, taking into account those not affiliated with the AIA), that would mean that up to 2,200 firms may have disappeared into thin air.

The American Council of Engineering Companies, which lists more than 5,300 firms among its membership, has no concrete answer either.

Firms have downsized in certain areas, particularly where there was a large developer market tied to residential construction growth. But we have no data on closings,” says Jeffrey Beard, ACEC vice president and director of the Institute for Business Management, also to The Zweig Letter.

The Izod Meadowlands Arena was one of many high-profile projects in the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area designed by Grad Associates.

Quite a few high-profile firms have closed in the last two years, including:

  • Cubellis, a large architecture firm in Boston, closed December 2009.
  • Lucien Lagrange Architects Ltd. in Chicago filed for bankruptcy in July 2010.
  • Rink Design Partnership Inc. in Jacksonville, FL, started a process of winding down in April 2010.
  • Grad Associates in Newark, NJ, a 104-year-old firm responsible for shaping part of the New York and Newark skylines, shuttered its doors in February 2010.
  • CMX Inc. in Manalapan, NJ, a multi-disciplined engineering and consulting firm, announced its closing in April 2010, selling part of its assets to Birdsall Services Group (BSG, Sea Girt, NJ). At one time CMX employed more than 1,000 people, evidence that bigger firms also fall; CMX ranked 156 on The Zweig Letter 2009 Hot Firm List.


cubellis: Project Architect by the New Jersey Educational Information Resource Center (EIRC) for a new Challenger Learning Center in Mount Laurel Township.

Grad: the Izod Meadowlands Arena was one of many high-profile projects in the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area designed by Grad Associates.