Designing the 60,000-sq-ft Center for Emerging Technologies and a 1,200-space AutoPark Structure for the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR) near Greenville, S.C., proved no easy drive through the park.

CU-ICAR, reflecting the changing nature of the Southeast design market, required exacting specifications within a limited budget. The center's design had to support academic research on a variety of advanced automotive technologies—which in turn support and influence powerhouses like BMW, whose nearby plant will soon produce nearly 500,000 vehicles a year.

"Our campus is unlike anything else in this part of the state," says John Boyette, CU-ICAR's director of land and capital asset stewardship and a former practicing architect. "Budgeting is critical, as we have to be competitive with lease rates and provide the features these companies are looking for."

But Charleston, S.C.-based architectural firm LS3P rose to the occasion. Both projects achieved LEED-Gold certification. Another LS3P project, the 75,000-sq-ft Research One building, expects to earn a LEED-Silver rating; construction will begin later this year.

"LS3P does as good a job as anyone to balance scope and budget, yet also meet exacting design standards," Boyette adds.

For its ability to meet the evolving design needs of regions like upstate South Carolina, which is transforming from a region dependent on textile mills to one fully integrated with the global economy, LS3P has been named ENR Southeast's Design Firm of the Year.

Amid the Southeast's steadily strengthening overall economy, the 200-person, six-office firm competed successfully with larger, nationally known peers. The firm enjoyed regional revenue of $47.7 million in 2013—a nearly 23% increase over 2012—with much of the growth centered in its corporate/commercial and faith-based sectors. LS3P hired 25 new employees in 2013 and plans to add 20 more this year.

"We saw a lot of recovery last year, even though federal and K-12 work is still struggling and higher education isn't where it should be," observes Thom Penney, chairman, president and CEO of LS3P, who started at the firm as a high school intern.

Many of LS3P's new projects boast a construction value in excess of $15 million, including several topping $50 million. In addition to Research One at CU-ICAR, current projects include a six-story, 375,000-sq-ft expansion of the Electrolux Headquarters in Charlotte to house the company's North American research and development functions; the Center for Advanced Studies at Wando, a three-story, 125,000-sq-ft vocational education facility in Mt. Pleasant, S.C.; and the six-building, 520,000-sq-ft Wolf Ridge student housing project at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, designed in association with Sasaki Associates.

Evolving Needs

Today's clients are becoming increasingly sophisticated, says Katherine Peele, executive vice president for practice at LS3P. The fact that nearly all LS3P projects are done with BIM and aim for some upper-level LEED rating reflects clients' growing awareness of life-cycle management issues.

Similarly, clients are increasingly finding design-build, CM at-risk and other delivery methods attractive because of their coveted cost and schedule certainty. This is where LS3P has been able to take advantage of its expertise in multiple practice areas.