Flad Architects of Madison, Wis., has climbed one spot, to finish fourth, in Midwest Construction’s 2010 listing of top design firms, ranked by revenue, with $52.0 million in regional earnings. Last year, Flad ranked fifth, with $56.6 million.

In addition, the architectural and engineering firm stands 163rd on Engineering News-Record’s 2010 national ranking of top design firms, up from 170th in 2009; and ranks 37th on ENR’s 2010 list of top green design firms, up from 48th last year.

ENR and Midwest Construction are both published by McGraw-Hill Co.

Flad’s secret to success is “creating environments that enhance the user’s ability to achieve,” according to president and CEO Bill Bula.

He says Flad’s expertise is in planning and designing innovative spaces that help its clients do what they do in the best possible way.

“Architecture should be concerned with the way a building works, how it helps the user function better, and how it reflects the client’s culture, not just how a building looks,” Bula says.

Flad’s primary clients include a nationwide who’s who of leading companies and institutions involved in life-science research, health care, health science, technology, higher education and energy-technology research.

They include the University of Wisconsin, Indiana University, Purdue University and the University of Illinois; the universities of Florida, Connecticut and California; Eli Lilly Co.; Genetech; Johnson & Johnson; Novartis; Bayer; Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals; Whirlpool; Harley-Davidson; Kettle Brand Foods; University of Wisconsin Hospitals; NASA; American Family Insurance; Pharmacia Corp.; Bausch & Lomb; and the U.S. Army Medical Research Center.

Flad offers its clients an array of services that includes architectural design, interior design, landscape architecture, master planning, strategic planning, structural engineering and sustainable design.

“Our clients confront challenges that change people’s lives: beating diseases, increasing national security, educating diverse populations, making medical facilities more effective and efficient, and figuring out how to make the best use of energy and resources, to name a few,” Bula says.

“Each client has special needs. We meet them by understanding what the project owner is trying to achieve, then assembling a cross-functional project team that has the skills and experience to develop an innovative and effective solution.”

John Flad founded the company in 1927 in Madison. The firm also has offices in Atlanta; Gainesville and Tampa, Fla.; Raleigh, N.C.; Stamford, Conn.; and San Francisco.

The company has been employee owned since 1985, and all of its offices function as an extended team, sharing expertise, Bula says.

Each employee works on several kinds of projects. Flad believes that this broad experience helps the firm’s innovative designers apply successful ideas from one kind of project to another. For example, an idea that helped make a research lab more efficient might also help a hospital function more effectively.

“As we work on each project, we ask ourselves what ideas from other kinds of projects might become solutions for other challenges,” Bula says.

Moving designers between kinds of projects also helps them grow, Flad officials say. “We’ve found that people develop faster when they tackle a variety of tasks and challenges,” Bula says. “They also tend to stay excited about their work and stay with us longer.”

About one-third of Flad’s work serves clients involved in higher education.

Architect David Black is a Flad design principal with more than 15 years of experience designing buildings for colleges and universities.

Because each floor of a modern research building tends to be 15 to 16 ft tall and historic buildings tend to have 12-ft-tall floors, most current research buildings are built new, rather than renovated from existing ones, Black says.