American cities are home to some of the most forward-thinking structures in the world, thanks in large part to the following architect firms. These companies (listed in no particular order) have excelled not only financially but also in terms of living up to standards of American excellence previously set by legends in the industry.
Top 15 Architect Firms That Shaped The Way US Cities Look
#1. Studio Gang
Among Chicago architect firms, Studio Gang is an indisputable legend. The firm’s influence is widely recognized; in addition to receiving multiple industry awards, its founder Jeanne Gang was the only architect to make Time Magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in 2019.
Gang has completed a number of works that revolutionized Chicago’s appearance, including the WMS Boathouse and the Aqua Tower, the latter of which is the tallest building ever built by a woman, period. It won’t hold that title for long, though; Gang is already working on a new structure (Vista Residences) that will surpass it.
One of Studio Gang’s unmistakable marks on Chicago architecture, the Aqua Tower. George Showman [CC BY 2.0]
Her work is almost inescapable in Chicago; even those arriving in the city via O’Hare International Airport will witness it once her team is through extending the structure. Gang’s influence extends beyond the United States as well; she has presented at industry events as far away as Australia, whose revolutionary architects you can read about here.
#2. Perkins + Will
Perkins + Will is also among the most influential Chicago architect firms. Their reach extends far beyond the ‘Windy City’ with iconic works in Houston (Historic Emancipation Park), Los Angeles (Destination Crenshaw), and many more locations.
Perkins + Will could never be accused of making ‘boring’ structures; their innovative designs transform the cities that host them.
Their work gives such cities a decidedly modern edge but make no mistake; as with many of the architect firms on this list, they’ve been at this for decades.
#3. Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
When you’re one of the influential architect firms on this list, the stakes are always high. With every project, you need to live up to expectations, lest another major player in this cutthroat space steals your thunder. Sometimes, though, the stakes are even higher than normal.
This was the case for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), the company that ultimately rose above all the other architect engineering firms vying to redesign the World Trade Center in New York City.
SOM was responsible for designing New York’s One World Trade Center, which exists in part to memorialize those lost on 9/11.
The historical significance of the Twin Towers almost guaranteed that, no matter what it looked like, SOM’s design to replace them would garner harsh criticism. Regardless of what one thinks of the new One World Trade Center (although, many critics praise it), it indisputably revolutionized New York’s skyline and stands as a testament to American resilience.
#4. AC Martin
AC Martin is one of the oldest Los Angeles architect firms, and their portfolio of notable works speaks to that history. Such works as the Thomas Higgins Building and the Los Angeles City Hall have cemented their status.
AC Martin was one of the architect firms enlisted to design what is arguably Los Angeles’ most recognizable structure — City Hall.
They are still very active today, designing everything from university campus buildings to residential and commercial architecture.
#5. Marmol Radziner
Marmol Radziner is also firmly among the most influential Los Angeles architect firms. Aspiring residential architecture firms around the world would do well to study some of Marmol Redziner’s single-family structures, which are remarkably sleek.
Marmol Radziner’s work designing and constructing single-family homes has placed it among the best residential architect firms in America.
Beyond such structures, Marmol Radziner has designed buildings for hospitality, commerce, and community.
Successful architect engineering firms understand that shaping a city’s appearance often involves revitalizing historical structures that have fallen into disarray.
Such is the case with CallisonRTKL, which has prioritized sparking conversations about revitalizing buildings of historical significance. One noteworthy example is a competition they launched to generate ideas for restoring the dilapidated Guyon Hotel in Chicago.
Among CRTKL’s monumental works is City Creek in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Modern examples of their success in shaping US cities include their design of the City Creek downtown hub in Salt Lake City, Utah.
#7. Brett Zamore Design
Brett Zamore Design is among the foremost Houston architect firms. They stand out among residential architect firms in the city due to their relatively unconventional approach. They specialize in prefabricated kit homes that manage to be so stunning you wouldn’t immediately notice they’re not conventional homes.
These kits are popping up all over the United States, including the company’s home base of Houston.
#8. CONTENT Architecture
CONTENT Architecture is another force to be reckoned with among Houston architect firms. In addition to being one of the foremost residential architect firms in the city, they’ve lent their design chops to several commercial projects.
Boomtown Cafe, a piece of architecture that has been home to many good times in Houston, Texas.
One noteworthy example is Boomtown Coffee, a favorite spot among Houstonites that contains a decidedly Texas appearance. Other examples of their work include Goodnight Charlie’s and a new wedding venue development.
Structures housing entertainment and sporting events present a unique opportunity for architect firms to associate themselves permanently with a given city. Populous has several such structures under their belt, including the Texas A&M Kyle Field, Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, and State Farm Stadium in Glendale.
State Farm Stadium is one of Glendale, Arizona’s most iconic structures, designed by Populous in collaboration with Peter Eisenman.
Such structures are unique in that they may be the most recognizable features of their respective cities for people that have never visited but watch large-scale sporting events like the Superbowl on TV.
#10. ZGF Architects
ZGF is one of those architect firms that has its tentacles all over North America, including five U.S. cities. One of their most impressive designs is The Mark/F5 Tower in Seattle, which stands out as perhaps the most adventurous design gracing Seattle’s skyline.
The Mark is one of Seattle’s most daring buildings.
Its angular, distorted appearance literally reshapes said skyline and will undoubtedly push other architect firms in the city to be bolder. Other bold projects by ZGF have similarly reshaped the cities that call them home.
Detroit-based SmithGroup is another fine example of how architect firms in the U.S. revolutionize cities far beyond that which they are headquartered in.
The California Pacific Medical Center.
SmithGroup’s award-winning designs include the California Pacific Medical Center at the Van Ness Campus and the San Diego County Sheriff’s Crime Laboratory. The former occupies an entire city block and provides key healthcare resources to local residents.
#12. Gresham Smith
As with sports stadiums, airports provide architect firms in America an opportunity to shape cities in a remarkable way.
Gresham Smith’s work in expanding the Charlotte Douglas International Airport is a great example of a firm realizing such an opportunity’s potential to its fullest.
Gresham Smith has conducted similar work on the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida, bringing touches of modernity to the fastest growing large hub airport.
#13. HMC Architects
Schools are another piece of crucial infrastructure in America that gives architect firms the opportunity to make their mark on cities.
Portola High School in Irvine, California.
HMC Architects has designed a number of jaw-dropping pre-K-12 schools across the United States. These include Portola High School in Irvine, California and the modernized Leroy Greene Academy in Sacramento.
KTGY is another example of residential architect firms pushing boundaries while creating very welcoming and friendly communities.
Camden at Playa Vista in California.
One project that captures this ethos well is Camden at Playa Vista in California. Beyond residential work, KTGY has designed crucial city infrastructure like Central Park Station TOD in Denver.
#15. RSP Architects
Last but certainly not least on this list of American architect firms shaping the way cities look is Minneapolis-based RSP Architects.
Treasure Island Resort and Casino in Minnesota.
Among RSP’s notable works are several stunning hotels, which often serve as the most memorable snapshots of a city for the weary business traveler. Notable examples include the DoubleTree by Hilton in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and Treasure Island Resort and Casino in Minnesota.