Whether the trend is real is debatable. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) does not track merger activity. Yet in an AIA survey of 700 firms conducted last spring, 57 percent expected merger activity to pick up this year, versus 35 percent who said it would stay the same. And even if 86 percent in the same survey did not see themselves merging, interviews show that the possibility is increasingly being discussed among designers, who are looking to expand, diversify, fortify, or cash out.
Mergers can lead to better economies of scale for services for the day-to-day workplace; an increased worldwide presence; and better bargaining power for projects where total assets are an issue. Those facts seem indisputable. But mergers, like marriages, are not all happy. Designers who have fused their firms note that culture clashes can result in the transition from a mom-and-pop shop to a boardroom-heavy office.