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Publication picks four Portland designers for top 100

Daily Journal of Commerce

October 12th 2005

Four Portland companies are highlighted in a residential building publication's new list of the top 100 U.S. architectural firms, but none are among the industry's "largest and best-known firms" that the publication acknowledged dominate the list.

Multi-Housing News, a monthly newspaper that tracks and analyzes residential building across the United States, placed four Portland firms - Fletcher Farr Ayotte PC, Leeb Architects LLC, Myhre Group Architects and Sienna Architecture Co. - among what it said are the United States' "top 100 architects."

While many of the other 96 firms on the list operate nationally, just two of the Portland four, Fletcher Farr Ayotte and Sienna, have satellite offices anywhere outside their home city, and Fletcher Farr Ayotte's second office, a small studio in Sacramento, isn't even fully staffed.

"It's refreshing to see us listed," said Robert Hoffman, an architect who focuses on multi-family design for Fletcher Farr Ayotte. "When you read (the article), they talk about how nationally these are some of the multi-housing industry's largest and best-known firms. Obviously, we're not large, and we're modestly known if we're known at all nationwide."

Myhre Group Architects opened its Portland office five years ago. The firm has always considered its multi-family designs among the best anywhere, said Sarah Adams, a marketer for Myhre Group, but everyone there was a bit surprised to learn a publication had picked Myhre Group as one of the United States' top 100 firms.

"It's flattering," Adams said. "We've been around for five years, and it's nice to finally get that recognition and be seen as a contender in the market."

Myhre Group has eyed Seattle and Reno, Nev., as potential future sites for satellite offices, Adams said. Being able to sell itself to clients in those cities as one of the nation's top firms might make future moves easier, she said.

Robert Leeb's Leeb Architects LLC, which designed the Merrick Apartments on Northeast Martin Luther King Boulevard and the Streetcar Lofts in Portland's Pearl District, isn't viewing its newfound recognition as a potential springboard outside the city. Instead, Leeb said, "we're going to do some infill stuff."

The recognition by Multi-Housing News is nice, Leeb said, but his firm at the moment would rather concentrate on smaller-scale Portland opportunities like the city's oft-maligned "skinny house" designs than seek work "back East."

Sienna Architecture Co., which has offices in Portland and Seattle, might be the largest of the four Portland firms recognized by the publication, but it's not a firm that operates much in U.S. regions outside the Northwest.

It does, however, do a "significant" amount of work in China, said Principal Gary Reddick, and it's efforts there may be why the firm was singled out by Multi-Housing News, Reddick said.

For the last year, Reddick said, Sienna has designed multi-housing projects across China that differ greatly from what the firm has done in the Pacific Northwest.

"There's obviously some different building codes," Reddick said, "and there's a different understanding of sun angles and their need for solar orientation and particularly cross-ventilation - we're doing a couple of high rises there where the buildings are only one unit deep."

The work in China has to some extent changed the way Sienna approaches design in the Northwest, Reddick said, and has made the firm a stronger one - one deserving of its top 100 rank, he said.

"The work in China has definitely brought an intense discussion of housing to the office," he said.