US giant on the hunt for ’the biggest or near biggest architect’ to add to global portfolio

Aecom is on the hunt for a major architect as it continues its rapid global expansion, Building understands.

Following the US firm’s buyout of QS Davis Langdon for £204m last month, the £3.8bn-turnover multidisciplinary giant is looking to add an architect to its portfolio as it aims to build a global “one-stop shop” consultancy.

It is not known if Aecom has a particular firm in its sights, but sources said it is on the hunt for practices in the global top five, which would include HOK, Aedas, Gensler and RMJM. One source said HOK was being tipped by some in the market.

One head of a leading British architect that has been approached by Aecom over a deal said it planned to buy “the biggest or near biggest architect” in the world.

The boss of another high-profile UK practice said he was also aware of Aecom’s interest in a large player, possibly US-based, while a source at Aecom in the UK said: “They’re in the market for a global architect, someone along the lines of HOK.”

In October 2009 Aecom acquired architecture, interiors and engineering firm Ellerbe Becket for an undisclosed sum, adding 450 staff in the US and Middle East to its business. It followed the purchase in January 2007 of American architectural and engineering company HSMM.

Sameer Rathod, vice-president of analyst Macquarie Capital, said another $200m-$500m (£130m-£325m) acquisition in the league of Davis Langdon would not be surprising.

But Rathod warned the firm could run into trouble after its buying spree if the world economy continues to experience low or no growth, because its strategy was based on a quick upturn.

“They want to keep adding and adding. If we are in a no- or low-growth environment for three, four or five years, then a lot of these acquisitions don’t make sense. But Aecom is forecasting it [the recovery] will be sooner rather than later,” said Rathod.