William Moore, AIA, started his Denver-based design/build firm in 1996, after he could only find work as a carpenter. He shuttered it a year later to do infill work as an architect in San Francisco. “At the time, Sprocket was a fledgling operation,” he says. “The infill market was still slow here, so I wasn't leaving much.”
Moore reopened his firm upon returning to Denver in 2000, and it took off. Fueled by speculative infill housing, Sprocket grew to 20 employees and was responsible for the design and construction of countless condo and row house projects. The firm built its own work, as well as that of fellow firms, and was a partner developer on other projects. “It was very steady, if not exponential, growth,” he says.
With residential growth now stagnant, commercial work—especially renovations of existing properties—currently accounts for 60 percent of the firm's total. “The speculative residential market is pretty much gone,” Moore acknowledges. “We have a couple that we're involved in, but no clients are coming to us for that.” Instead, the firm has had to accept more single-family commissions. “That's the kind of work we didn't prefer, to be honest, but we are now saying yes.”
Given the tough year ahead, Moore has had to scale back his staff to 12, including several part-time interns and contract staff. “It has been very traumatic, especially since the designers and architects I laid off were highly skilled and talented people,” he says.
In prescient anticipation of the slowdown, Moore sold Sprocket's office building in 2007 and moved the firm to a smaller space. He's also taking a more active role in finding work. His prediction for the future? “The housing boom created a lot of excess,” he says. “When the market returns, architects will be making fewer things—but smaller and better things.”
age of firm: 9 years (in June)
firm specialty: Urban infill (including row houses and condos), mixed-use, and commercial
staff: 16 (2005); 22 (2008); 12 (2009, projected)
total revenue: $7.5 million (2005); $17 million (2008); $10 million (2009, projected)
completed projects: 15 (2005); 20 (2008); 18 (2009, projected)