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Higher education market holding steady

But Giants 300 University AEC Firms aren’t expecting a flood of new work.

July 20, 2012 |
The Kravis Center at Claremont-McKenna College in Claremont, Calif. The 169,000-

Higher education has historically been a mainstay for many AEC firms, but the economic downturn forced many colleges and universities to stretch out, stall, or even cancel capital projects. One positive sign is the June 13 announcement by Harvard University that it will resume development of its 500,000- to 600,000-sf Allston Health and Life Science Center in 2014, after halting construction in 2009. The estimated $1 billion-plus in work has AEC firms champing at the bit.

Is the Harvard announcement a sign of good things to come? Maybe. Maybe not.

Carole Wedge, FAIA, LEED AP, President of Shepley Bulfinch Richardson & Abbott, says university capital budgets look like they’ll be tight for some time to come. “We’re seeing higher-ed clients looking for ways to be smart about their capital investments,” she says. “More than simply prioritizing their capital spending, they want to determine the most impactful projects for their campuses.”

Chris Brasier, FAIA, LEED AP, Vice President of Clark Nexsen Architecture & Engineering, says he has seen greater activity in master planning and advanced planning for future projects, as well as more deferred maintenance work. “With endowments and state funding still recovering from the great recession, existing facilities are being repurposed with greater emphasis on flexibility to accommodate a broad range of instructional activity within a single space,” he says.

“Flexibility” is the catchword in collegiate facilities these days. Shepley Bulfinch’s Wedge cites interdisciplinary science facilities like the future Harvard’s Allston science center, which will house facilities for stem cell science as well as engineering and physical sciences, and the new College of Design, Engineering, and Commerce at Philadelphia University.

Brad Lukanic, AIA, LEED AP, Principal at Cannon Design, has noticed a trend toward flexibility at community colleges. “Space is at a premium, and we need to design buildings that offer learning everywhere,” he says. The focus must go beyond just the classroom, even into the corridors and collaboration spaces. “Everything must be flexible and ready for learning all the time,” he says.


Universities are seeking more bang for the buck in terms of sustainability as well. Clark Nexsen’s Brasier says collegiate clients are demanding more than LEED certification: They’re expecting a bottom-line benefit in terms of reduced operating costs, especially through improved energy performance.

ZGF Architects’ Partner Ted Hyman, FAIA, agrees that clients are looking to sustainable design as a means to trim O&M costs, but says they don’t necessarily want to pay more for green buildings. “Using an integrated design approach and new analytical tools for performance modeling, we are finding we can deliver high-performance buildings at the same, or even lower, capital costs,” he says.

With some 677 institutions having signed the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, achieving carbon neutrality is the ultimate goal. “Campuses are utilizing pilot projects to test implementation strategies on one building that could then be rolled out across campus,” says Chris Flint Chatto, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP. The ZGF Sustainable Design Associate points to his firm’s design for the University of Washington’s Molecular Engineering & Sciences building, which uses natural ventilation and phase change materials to eliminate cooling needs for faculty offices.


Specific academic building types are experiencing change, according to Clark Nexsen’s Brasier. For example, the demand on campuses for more robust digital capacity is resulting in larger, more complex data centers. Libraries are filling up with team rooms, not only to foster greater collaboration among students, but also to provide advanced computer technology that most students can’t afford.

Gen Y students also have high expectations for residence halls, according to Clark Nexsen’s Operations Director Peter Aranyi, AIA, and Senior Architect Ken Gallaugher, AIA, LEED AP BD+C. From personal bathrooms to high-speed Internet access and flat-screen TVs, they expect privacy and a “live-and-learn” community atmosphere. Security is also a top priority, so res hall locks have gone wireless. 

With jobs in short supply, more collegians are going to school year-round. This presents an operations hurdle for university facilities staff and construction firms that would normally use the summer months to repair and update facilities.

Interest in the use of building information modeling is also picking up, especially in the design and construction of research facilities, says Angus Leary, Chief Operating Officer, Northeast Region, Suffolk Construction. For science and technology projects, he says, “BIM is basically a requirement,” and his firm has begun utilizing 6D technology in this space.

Cautious optimism seems to be the best way to describe the university market. Suffolk Construction’s Leary says his firm is fairly bullish about work at institutions in the Northeast. Allyn Stellmacher, Design Partner at ZGF Architects, says the firm is “optimistic that this year is the last year of the recession.”

Fingers crossed. +



Rank Company 2011 University Revenue ($)
1 Cannon Design 87,000,000
2 Perkins+Will 44,649,973
3 ZGF Architects 31,513,344
4 EYP Architecture & Engineering 24,958,224
5 SmithGroupJJR 23,100,000
6 HOK 22,759,496
7 Shepley Bulfinch Richardson & Abbott 22,234,000
8 IBI Group 22,136,504
9 Gensler 19,250,500
10 Skidmore, Owings & Merrill 17,783,000
11 Ballinger 17,460,661
12 SHW Group 16,273,552
13 Hammel, Green and Abrahamson 16,200,000
14 HMC Architects 15,882,470
15 Sasaki Associates 14,861,566
16 Flad Architects 14,440,000
17 HNTB Architecture 13,220,652
18 DLR Group 13,140,000
19 Perkins Eastman 13,000,000
20 Ennead Architects 11,600,000
21 S/L/A/M Collaborative, The 10,658,510
22 BSA LifeStructures 10,303,967
23 Heery International 9,536,000
24 LPA 9,469,765
25 Moseley Architects 9,140,000



Rank Company 2011 University Revenue ($)
1 URS Corp. 85,600,000
2 Jacobs 75,100,000
3 Stantec 63,450,000
4 AECOM Technology Corp. 63,000,000
5 Atkins North America 29,899,688
6 Parsons Brinckerhoff 21,900,000
7 STV 19,765,000
8 Clark Nexsen 18,681,885
9 Eaton Energy Solutions 15,863,119
10 R.G. Vanderweil Engineers 13,707,500
11 Burns & McDonnell 13,430,931
12 KJWW Engineering Consultants 11,117,473
13 KPFF Consulting Engineers 11,000,000
14 Arup 10,604,123
15 Bard, Rao + Athanas Consulting Engineers 9,800,000
16 Simpson Gumpertz & Heger 8,690,000
17 M/E Engineering 7,700,000
18 WSP USA 7,300,000
19 Bergmann Associates 7,100,000
20 Dewberry 7,023,489
21 P2S Engineering 6,777,497
22 Sebesta Blomberg 6,695,924
23 Stanley Consultants 6,100,000
24 RMF Engineering 6,000,000
25 Heapy Engineering 5,869,055



Rank Company 2011 University Revenue ($)
1 M+W U.S. 908,412,342
2 Gilbane Building Co. 847,038,000
3 Turner Corp., The 748,000,000
4 PCL Construction Enterprises 682,884,910
5 Skanska USA 514,460,894
6 Whiting-Turner Contracting Co., The 505,659,766
7 Swinerton 302,950,000
8 Balfour Beatty US 299,314,655
9 Structure Tone 275,420,000
10 Sundt Construction 254,698,897
11 Hunt Construction Group 247,500,000
12 JE Dunn Construction 236,307,786
13 McCarthy Holdings 217,000,000
14 W. M. Jordan Co. 191,930,824
15 Shawmut Design and Construction 179,900,000
16 Messer Construction 178,769,470
17 Suffolk Construction 172,662,764
18 Flintco 171,600,000
19 Mortenson Construction 169,890,000
20 Tutor Perini Corp. 167,393,000
21 Manhattan Construction Group 163,093,000
22 Lend Lease 157,270,352
23 Hensel Phelps Construction 156,030,000
24 Barton Malow 148,648,720
25 Austin Industries 142,032,883
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