Design-builder Clayco, which was founded in St. Louis, has acquired Chicago design firm Lamar Johnson Collaborative (LJC).

LJC will become a branded business group within Clayco’s architecture and design practice. LJC President and CEO Lamar Johnson will serve in the leadership team of Clayco’s design business in an as-yet-unnamed role.

“While we’ve had an architectural practice that had over a hundred people in it, we really felt like we wanted to expand our design-build presence,” says Bob Clark, chairman and CEO of Clayco. “We decided to move our national headquarters to Chicago in 2013. Lamar is extremely well-respected both as a leader and design expert in the Chicago market.”

Clayco has been acquiring other companies to expand its design and construction business since moving to Chicago. Clayco acquired Bates Architecture last year and merged it with its in-house Forum design studio to create BatesForum. Clayco reported more than $2 billion in revenue in 2017 and topped ENR Midwest’s 2018 Top Contractors list.

“Lamar’s background and history in the business is, I think, iconic,” Clark says. “So we felt that having someone like Lamar actually as part of the overall leadership team in the organization, but also helping us specifically with the strategy in our architecture and engineering group, was a huge step in the right direction.”

The acquisition increases Clayco’s architecture and design professional staff to 225 in Chicago, St. Louis, San Francisco, Springfield, Mo., and Rogers, Ark. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Clark says the company’s collaboration with Johnson and LJC on previous projects was a factor in making the acquisition.

“I think that’s one of the compelling reasons that we joined forces, is that it just seems to both of us that there’s so much inefficiency in the regular process, the normal [design-bid-build] process of architects doing their work,” Johnson says. “That whole system is, if it’s not broken, it’s not working very well, at the very least. This gives us an opportunity to refine that.”

LJC is both an architecture and interior designer. Former Gensler Chicago principal and managing principal Johnson launched the firm in 2017. LJC quickly built a reputation as both a disrupter and an innovator in the Chicago architecture community.

“We wanted the best and brightest that were available, and I was fortunate enough to establish great relationships with a number of those people at Gensler and, in spite of their better judgment, they decided to join me,” Johnson says.  Johnson also noted that joining Clayco gives LJC more resources and access to other markets throughout the Midwest.

Both Clark and Johnson will continue to work out of Chicago.