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The Vanilla Projects That Keep Top Architecture Firms Going

Last month, Architectural Record released the 2012 version of its Top 250 Architecture Firms List, which "ranks U.S. companies based on architectural revenue from the prior year." If you were expecting the results to include big names like Frank Gehry or Robert A.M. Stern, you'll be sadly disappointed—all that stuff is only built in the Middle East now anyway. Most of the top five have functionary names that reflect their, well, functionary architecture. Leading the way this year was the San Francisco-based Gensler, with an astounding $764M in architecture billings last year. The company, which was heavily involved with the extravagant and ill-fated CityCenter project in Las Vegas, produces little in the way of avant-garde work, instead leaning toward large government contracts like this Drug Enforcement Agency headquarters in Denver, Colo.

? The former long-time number one, AECOM slipped to second place this year, with $445.4M in architecture revenue in 2011. The company is a huge conglomerate that operates in many fields outside of architecture and that means the architecture division gets called in on plenty of business brought in by other divisions. The company recently designed a sizable new headquarters for the Los Angeles Police Department. While it's more extravagant and artsy than we might expect for the LAPD, the building isn't quite groundbreaking it its forms.

? Perkins + Will might have the least alphanumeric name out of the top five, but this third-place firm still dabbles in some pretty standard developments. This condo project, built in Vancouver, Canada, probably didn't need to be innovative to find buyers given the red-hot local real estate market, so this is pretty stock. Still, it contributed to Perkins + Will's $365.4M in billings last year. A million dollars a day, that's not half bad.

? Running just out of medal contention is CH2M Hill, with $365.1M in architecture revenue last year, whose architecture division, IDC, seems to specialize in buildings for companies with less-than-descriptive names. This office park behemoth was built for Axcelis Technologies in Beverly, Mass. and is indicative of the sort of functional, no-risk building that IDC does best.

? Designing a hospital, with all of its attendant access and supply needs, is probably a great challenge, but HDR Architecture didn't go for a daring design for the Bellevue Medical Center. Of course, that sort of no-nonsense approach is what brought in $364.1M in billings last year, and the medical community of Bellevue, Neb. probably doesn't need a Guggenheim Bilbao to get the job done.

· Top 250 Architecture Firms: Gensler Takes the Crown [Arch Record]
· Starchitecture in the Arab Emirates: Fierce or Flop? You Decide! [Curbed National]
· DEA Headquarters [Gensler]
· Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Headquarters [AECOM]
· Green Yu Development [Perkins + Will]
· Portfolio [IDC Architecture]
· Bellevue Medical Center [HDR Architecture]