In the early weeks of 2020, architect Jonathan Marvel saw a steady stream of multifamily and public works jobs come across his desk.
“And then everything came to a screeching halt,” he said.
Marvel’s eponymous firm wasn’t alone. Design work dried up during the height of the pandemic as many construction sites shut down and financing became scarce.
Still, once construction work was permitted to resume in New York, many firms saw business pick back up. The Real Deal compiled a list of the most active architecture firms of 2020, based on the square footage of ground-up projects.
For the purposes of this ranking, TRD went by the architect of record listed on new building permit applications filed between Jan. 1 and Dec. 4 with the city’s Department of Buildings. The list includes several firms that have repeatedly ranked among the most active companies over the last several years, although a few newcomers also cracked the top 10 this year.
1. Marvel | 11 projects | 2.1 million square feet
“Our steady, long-term clients stuck with us, and I’m very grateful for that,” Jonathan Marvel said. “I think there’s a glimmer of light coming across for 2021.”
The firm recently rebranded as Marvel — no “Architects” — to underscore that its work goes beyond building design and other disciplines, including landscape architecture and urban planning.
In May, the firm filed a permit application for the third phase of Rockaway Village, a residential complex in Far Rockaway. The latest phase includes three buildings at 20-12 and 21-02 Mott Avenue and 17-21 Redfern Avenue, with a total of 538 apartments. The three buildings are expected to collectively span 634,000 square feet, making the project Marvel’s largest new building filing of the year.
It’s expected to break ground in early January. The five-phase project, which will ultimately include 1,700 affordable apartments, is being developed by Phipps Houses.
2. Dattner Architects | 12 projects | 1.98 million square feet
Like Marvel, Dattner also didn’t rank among the top companies last year, but came in seventh in 2018.
“We feel like we were really lucky that we came into the pandemic with a healthy backlog,” said Kirsten Sibilia, the firm’s managing principal. “The schedule on projects has changed in many cases. Projects have slowed down, but there is a shared commitment to deliver the affordable housing that is needed.”
Much of Dattner’s portfolio consists of affordable housing projects throughout the city. Its largest new filing this year was for a 585,000-square-foot residential tower at 700 Atlantic Avenue in Prospect Heights. The building, which is being developed by Greenland Forest City Partners, is expected to include nearly 700 apartments and more than 4,300 square feet of commercial space. It’s part of the 22-acre Pacific Park site, a massive development that has faced a series of delays since it was first announced in 2003. The developer filed plans for the tower in May.
3. Hill West Architects | 6 projects | 1.1 million square feet
Just as last year, Hill West was the architect of record on six new development projects that collectively spanned just over 1 million square feet. This year, however, the firm jumped up three spots compared to 2019, when it ranked sixth.
In October, a permit application was filed for a 566,000-square-foot mixed-use building at 355 Exterior Street in Mott Haven, in the Bronx. The project, which is Hill West’s largest ground-up project this year, will have more than 555,000 square feet of residential space and more than 10,000 square feet set aside for commercial use.
4. SLCE Architects | 4 projects | 848,972 square feet
In 2018, SLCE was the city’s most active architecture firm in terms of new development. Last year, the firm dropped down to fourth place, a position it held this year.
SLCE’s largest project this year was a 47-story mixed-use tower planned for 98 DeKalb Avenue, on the border of Downtown Brooklyn and Fort Greene. The development is expected to span a little more than 418,000 square feet with 609 apartments and retail on the first floor.
The firm is also serving as architect of record on a pair of apartment buildings in Long Island City at 55-01 Second Street and at 2-10 54th Street that will span 1.43 million square feet. This project, along with another at 43-14 Queens Street that will span 770,000 square feet, were not included in this analysis, since they were filed after TRD’s data pull.
5. BL Companies | 1 project | 770,822 square feet
Sometimes one is all it takes. Such was the case for BL Companies, which is listed as the architect of record on a single new building permit filed this year.
The project, a nearly 771,000-square-foot warehouse planned for 55-15 Grand Avenue in Maspeth, is the future home of Amazon, which signed a lease for the under-construction space in June. RXR Realty and partner LBA Logistics bought the site in 2018 for $72 million.
BL Companies got its start in 1986, first as a small transportation planning and civil engineering firm. The company, now headquartered in Connecticut, has since grown into an architecture, engineering and land surveying firm.
6. Handel Architects | 2 projects | 613,882 square feet
In mid-April, a permit application was filed for a 320,000-square-foot, mixed-use building at 35 Commercial Street in Greenpoint, which will feature 374 apartments. Park Tower Group is developing the project, which is part of the 11-building Greenpoint Landing complex. The firm, which is based in the Financial District, is also working on a nearly 300,000-square-foot mixed-use building at 312 West 43rd Street.
7. Aufgang Architects | 6 projects | 613,849 square feet
Aufgang’s two largest projects this year are part of the Peninsula Hospital redevelopment, an 11-building complex in Far Rockaway developed by the Arker Companies. This year, plans were filed for 5119 and 5123 Beach Channel Drive, mixed-use buildings that will respectively span 220,500 and 161,800 square feet. The two buildings will have a total of 451 apartments.
8. GF55 Partners | 4 projects | 595,047 square feet
GF55 has been active in the outer boroughs, with projects located in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Staten Island. The firm’s largest new project was a 208,000-square-foot residential building at 475 Bay Street in Staten Island. BFC Partners, the company behind Empire Outlets, is developing the project. The firm’s second-biggest project was a 184,000-square-foot, mixed-use building at 1016 Fox Street in the Foxhurst section of the Bronx. The building is being developed by the Atlantic Development Group.
9. J Frankl Architects | 5 projects | 594,470 square feet
Brooklyn-based J. Frankl largely focuses on residential, mixed-use projects. The firm was founded in 2010 by Joseph Frankl, who set out to form a mid-sized company.
“The larger firms, there is a lot of bureaucracy,” he said.
The firm is new to TRD’s annual ranking of the most active architects. Its largest project was a 172,000-square-foot residential building at 26-25 Fourth Street in Astoria. The firm is also designing a 131,000-square-foot, mixed-use building for developer Solomon Feder at 1640 Flatbush Avenue in Midwood. That project is expected to include 171 apartments.
10. Arquitectonica | 2 projects | 538,141 square feet
Miami-based Arquitectonica rounded out this year’s ranking, marking the first time since 2015 that the firm has made the cut. The company’s largest project of 2020 was a 300,000-square-foot mixed-use building at 145 Wolcott Street in Red Hook. Draw Brooklyn is developing the project.