You should probably be sitting down for this because there is some big news regarding the Architecture Billings Index (ABI) that is not for the faint of heart. With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s proceed. So everyone knows that the ABI has really been flexing its muscle this summer—it posted a 52.6 in May and then a 53.5 in June. Those are pretty solid scores given that anything above a 50 indicates an increase in billings, but then July happened—and it happened in a big way. Last month, the ABI posted a 55.8. That's important news considering the index hasn't been that high since 2007—since before the whole global financial meltdown. What truly makes this news so special is that everyone played a part. By region, the Northeast won the gold with a score of 55.5, the South took silver with a strong 55.1, and the Midwest got the bronze at 54.1. While the West didn't take home a medal, it still scored in the positive territory with a 53.5. So, if you think about it, they are all winners. The same can be said for each sector. Mixed practice really blew things out of the water with a score of 61.0, multi-family residential wasn't too far back at 56.5, institutional posted a respectable 53.3, and commercial/industrial landed in positive territory at 51.2.How about the design contracts index? How did that do? Well, how does a 54.9 sound to you? Pretty good, right? And the new project inquiries index? Well, have you ever heard of a 66.0? And that’s not all! The forecast looks good too. “Business conditions for the design and construction marketplace, and those industries associated with it, appear to be well-positioned for continued growth in the coming months,” AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker, said in a statement. “The key to a more widespread boost in design activity continues to be the institutional sector which is starting to exhibit signs of life after languishing for the better part of the last five-plus years.” Let’s finish things off here today with just a little more data. The American Society of Interior Designers recently announced that in June the Interior Design Billings Index (IDBI) scored a 55.8 and the Inquiries Index went even higher to 58.2. Sure, that’s obviously down from May, but still positive, still positive.
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Chicago architect John Vinci will receive this year’s lifetime achievement award from the AIA Chicago, the local chapter announced in June. Vinci’s work includes preservation activism—he helped reconstruct Louis Sullivan’s Chicago Stock Exchange Trading Room inside the Art Institute of Chicago—and original designs like the Arts Club of Chicago and the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame. He is a principal of the design firm Vinci Hamp Architects. “No one has moved so effortlessly from past to present to future as John Vinci,” AIA Chicago executive vice president Zurich Esposito said in a statement. “His designs are rooted in history and informed by his scholarship yet most certainly of our time.” Vinci will be feted at Designight, AIA Chicago’s 59th Annual Design Excellence Awards, at Navy Pier on October 24. Last year’s recipient was Stanley Tigerman. Read more about Vinci at the Art Institute of Chicago's website, where he talks to Betty J. Blum about his career, design philosophy, and discovering preservation while at the Illinois Institute of Technology:
If you believe in something and fight for it, it's a strong statement about the society. And certainly preservation has had a hold on the society. Cities are rethinking themselves."
Yes, the rumors are true—the Architecture Billings Index (ABI) is in positive territory for the second straight month. That's right, the second straight month. After the ABI posted a solid 52.6 in May there was no telling what could happen next. Would it go up? Would it go down? Would it maybe even stay the same? It was anyone's guess. Today, those questions were answered and what we got was even more good news. In June, the ABI posting jumped to 53.5 in June. And that's not all, folks. The new projects inquiry index did some climbing of its own—moving from 63.2 to 66.4. So what’s to account for this blockbuster summer? “The recent surge in both design contracts and general inquiries for new projects by prospective clients is indicative of a sustainable strengthening across the construction marketplace,” AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker, said in a statement. “With the first positive reading since last summer in billings at institutional firms, it appears that design activity for all major segments of the building industry is growing. The challenge now for architecture firms seems to be finding the right balance for staffing needs to meet increasing demand.” To the data! By region, the Midwest led the pack with a score of 56.3 followed by the South (53.9) and the Northeast (51.1), and the West (48.7). Any score above 50 signifies an increase in billings, but you know that by now. By sector, multi-family residential (57.7) and mixed-use practice (53.8) had the best month. They edged ahead of commercial/industrial (53.1), and institutional, which eeked a positive score of 50.2. All good news. The design contracts index, the new metric on the block, was also in positive territory at 55.7. See you here same time next month.
Are you heading to the AIA Convention? Come visit The Architect's Newspaper at booth 4940. Meet executive editor Alan G. Brake and Midwest editor Chris Bentley from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Thursday and Friday. Relax in design classics provided by Carl Hansen & Son. Recharge your phone. Have a coffee or water on us. Network with friends and colleagues. Or just wave! See you in Chicago!
And there it is, after months in negative territory the Architecture Billings Index (ABI) jumped into positive territory in May with a score 52.6—that’s up from 49.6 in April. Any score over 50 signals an increase in billings. The new projects inquiry also jumped from 59.1 to 63.2. Rounding out the positive news is the AIA’s new design contracts indicator, which posted a 52.5. Nice job by all. By region, the strongest gains were in the South (58.1) and the Midwest (51.3). The Northeast (47.6) and West (46.9) had a rougher month. And by sector, the breakouts were multi-family residential (58.2), commercial/industrial (53.6), and mixed practice (50.4). Institutional was one the other side of the ledger with a 47.3. “Volatility continues to be the watchword in the design and construction markets, with firms in some regions of the country, and serving some sectors of the industry, reporting strong growth, while others are indicating continued weakness,” AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker said in a statement. “However, overall, it appears that activity has recovered from the winter slump, and design professions should see more positive than negative numbers in the coming months.” In other data news, the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) released a statistical report this week that found the "median age of people at initial licensure is the lowest in 10 years." Essentially, architects are getting licensed earlier in life—the median age for licensure is currently 34. The board also found "an increase since 2011 in the number of women applying for NCARB Records. The percentage of women applying continues to hold around 40 percent—a marked increase from 10 percent in the early 1990s.
Chicago’s top art school announced big changes in its design department this morning. The School of the Art Institute of Chicago Thursday announced their selection of Jonathan Solomon as the new Director of the Department of Architecture, Interior Architecture, and Designed Objects (AIADO). Solomon, who comes from his position as associate professor and associate dean at the School of Architecture at Syracuse University, assumes the job officially on August 1. In 2010 Solomon, who holds a Bachelor of Arts in Urban Studies from Columbia University and a Master of Architecture and Certificate in Media and Modernity from Princeton University, helped curate Workshopping: An American Model of Architectural Practice at the Venice Architecture Biennial. He is the co-founder of 306090, a nonprofit arts stewardship organization. He previously taught design at the City College of New York, the University at Buffalo, and the University of Hong Kong, where he led the Department of Architecture as Acting Head from 2009 to 2012. He is a licensed architect in the State of Illinois. Solomon recently spoke on a Chicago Architecture Foundation panel discussing Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin’s series on Chicago designers in China. He is related to Lou Solomon, who helped found Chicago design firm Solomon Cordwell Buenz (SCB).
The Architecture Billings Index (ABI) remains in negative territory for the second straight month. While the April index ticked up to 49.6, from 48.8 last month, it was not enough to break 50, which signals an increase in design services. The new projects inquiry, however, increased from 57.9 to 59.1. The overall decrease was caused by disappointing numbers posted in the West (48.9), Midwest (47.0), and especially in the Northeast (42.9). While those regions came up short, the South showed signs of life with a score of 57.5 By sector, multi-family residential (52.6), commercial/industrial (50.2), and mixed practice (50.7) all saw gains, while institutional (47.1) could not break 50. The AIA’s latest metric introduced last month, the design contracts index, recorded a steep increase to 54.6. “Despite an easing in demand for architecture services over the last couple of months, there is a pervading sense of optimism that business conditions are poised to improve as the year moves on,” said AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker. “With a healthy figure for design contracts this should translate into improved billings in the near future.”
Big projects command the most media attention, but small works of art and architecture can still make a splash. That’s the ethos of AIA Chicago’s fourth annual Small Projects Awards, which last week named 13 honorees among 96 entries that included Chinatown’s new boathouse, a barn-like complement to Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth house, and an un-built “Safe House” for tornado-ravaged Joplin, Missouri. The winners fell into one of five categories: 1,001-5,000 Square Feet, 500 Square Feet and Under, 501-1,000 Square Feet, Objects, Un-built Buildings. (Last year's winners.) Little You is a speech therapy center built with a modest budget of $154 per square foot. Made of black manganese modular brick and clear anodized aluminum, the modern building embraces the neighborhood’s 50s-era commercial building stock. Mies’ archetypal modernist home, the Farnsworth House, is sinking. While preservationists decide how to minimize damages from future floods, the Barnsworth Exhibition Center provides temporary exhibition space for Edith Farnsworth’s wardrobe. Recycled lumber scraps from the circular-plan barn went to create an end-grain floor. Not attempting to out-Mies Mies, the Barnsworth instead nods to the site’s agrarian setting. Safe House won the un-built buildings category for its mission to provide refuge from storms like the tornado that destroyed much of Joplin, Missouri in 2011. Built with insulated concrete forms, from foundation to exterior walls to roof, the efficient construction method reduces energy bills by 50 percent, according to designers Wrap Architecture. The concrete roof is left exposed, pattern imprinted and sealed. Screens are rated to wind forces of 175 mph, so a safe room is included for the most severe storms. Read about all the entries here.
The AIA's Committee on the Environment (COTE) has announced the winners of its annual sustainability awards program. Now in its 18th year, the COTE awards celebrate green architecture, design, and technology. According to a press release, the winning projects must “make a positive contribution to their communities, improve comfort for building occupants and reduce environmental impacts.” Each of the ten winners will be officially honored at the AIA's National Convention and Design Exhibition in Chicago later this year, but, in the meantime, here’s a closer look at the 10 winners. Arizona State University Student Health Services (Pictured at top) Tempe, Arizona Lake|Flato Architects + Orcutt|Winslow According to the AIA: “The Arizona State University (ASU) Health Services Building is an adaptive reuse project that transformed the existing sterile and inefficient clinic into a clearly organized, efficient, and welcoming facility. The design imbues the new facility with a sense of health and wellness that leverages Tempe’s natural environment and contributes to a more cohesive pedestrian oriented campus. The building’s energy performance is 49% below ASHRAE 90.1-2007, exceeding the current target of the 2030 Challenge. The facility achieved LEED Platinum certification and is one of the best energy performers on campus as evidenced by ASU’s Campus Metabolism interactive web-tool tracking real-time resource use.” Bud Clark Commons Portland, Oregon Holst Architecture According to the AIA: “As a centerpiece of Portland’s 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness, this LEED Platinum project provides a continuum of services to help transition homeless individuals toward stable, permanent living arrangements. The architecture helps achieve this goal with a walk-in day center with public courtyard and access to support services; a 90-bed temporary shelter; and a separate and secure entrance to 130 efficient, furnished studio apartments for homeless individuals seeking permanent housing. The building’s design aims to deinstitutionalize services and housing for the most vulnerable in our population. Sustainable features include large-scale graywater recycling, zero stormwater runoff, solar hot water, and a high-performance envelope, resulting in energy savings estimated at $60,000 annually.” Bushwick Inlet Park Brooklyn, New York Kiss + Cathcart, Architects According to the AIA: “This project is the first phase of the transformation of the Greenpoint–Williamsburg waterfront from a decaying industrial strip to a multifaceted public park. The design team integrated a program of playfields, public meeting rooms, classrooms, and park maintenance facilities, into a city-block sized site. The park building becomes a green hill on the west side, making 100% of the site usable to the public, and offering views to Manhattan. Below the green roof is a complex of building systems – ground source heat pump wells, rainwater harvest and storage, and drip irrigation. A solar trellis produces half the total energy used in the building.” Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt (EGWW) Federal Building Modernization Portland, Oregon SERA Architects in association with Cutler Anderson Architects According to the AIA: “On track to be one of the lowest energy-use buildings in the U.S., EGWW is a model for U.S. General Services Administration nationwide. The project’s goal was to transform the existing building from an aging, energy hog to one of the premiere environmentally-friendly buildings in the nation. With a unique facade of “reeds”, light shelf /sunshades designed by orientation and a roof canopy that supports a 180 kW photovoltaic array while collecting rainwater, EGWW pushes the boundaries for innovative sustainable deign strategies. In addition to the energy improvements, the design reveals the history of the building, exposing the artifacts of the original builders.” Gateway Center - SUNY-ESF College of Environmental Science & Forestry Syracuse, NY Architerra According to the AIA: “The SUNY-ESF College of Environmental Science & Forestry Gateway Center is a striking symbol of environmental stewardship and climate action leadership. This LEED Platinum campus center meets ESF’s goal of reducing the overall carbon footprint of the campus through net positive renewable energy production, while creating a combined heat and power plant and intensive green roof that serve as hands-on teaching and research tools. The double-ended bioclimatic form exemplifies passive solar design. Net positive energy systems integrated with the design serve four adjacent ESF buildings, providing 60% of annual campus heating needs and 20% of annual power needs.” John & Frances Angelos Law Center Baltimore, Maryland Behnisch Architekten and Ayers Saint Gross According to the AIA: “The John and Frances Angelos Law Center is the first large-scale opportunity for the University of Baltimore to demonstrate its intent to pursue strategies that eliminate global warming emissions and achieve climate neutrality. With this in mind, the Law Center is a highly sustainable and innovative structure that strives to reduce reliance on energy and natural resources, minimizing its dependence on mechanical ventilation and artificial lighting of interiors. This is part of a larger comprehensive effort on the part of the A/E team to approach sustainability from a more holistic vantage point from the outset of the project.” Sustainability Treehouse Glen Jean, West Virginia Design Architect: Mithun; Executive Architect/Architect of Record: BNIM According to the AIA: “Situated in the forest at the Summit Bechtel Reserve, this interactive, interpretive and gathering facility serves as a unique icon of scouting adventure, environmental stewardship and high performance building design. Visitors ascend indoor and outdoor platforms to experience the forest from multiple vantages and engage with educational exhibits that explore the site and ecosystem at the levels of ground, tree canopy and sky. Innovative green building systems—including a 6,450-watt photovoltaic array output, two 4,000-watt wind turbines, and a 1,000-gallon cistern and water cleansing system—combine to yield a net-zero energy and net-zero water facility that touches its site lightly.” The David and Lucile Packard Foundation Headquarters Los Altos, California EHDD According to the AIA: “The David and Lucile Packard Foundation headquarters acts as a catalyst for broad organizational sustainability and brings staff, grantees and partners together to solve the world’s most intractable problems. The Foundation's connection to the Los Altos community dates back to its inception in 1964. For the last two decades, as its grant making programs expanded locally and worldwide, staff and operations have been scattered in buildings throughout the city. This project enhances proximity and collaboration while renewing the Foundation’s commitment to the local community by investing in a downtown project intended to last through the end of 21st century.” U.S. Land Port of Entry Warroad, Minnesota Snow Kreilich Architects According to the AIA: “This LEED Gold certified Land Port of Entry is the first to employ a ground source heat pump system. Sustainably harvested cedar was used on the entire exterior envelope, canopies and some interior walls and 98% of all wood on the project is FSC certified. Additionally 22% of the material content came from recycled materials and 91% of all work areas have access to daylight. Rainwater collection, reconstructed wetlands and native plantings address resource and site-specific responses. The facility proudly supports the mission-driven demands of US Customs and Border Protection while addressing the sustainable challenges of our future.” Wayne N. Aspinall Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse Grand Junction, Colorado Design Architect, Westlake Reed Leskosky and Architect of Record, The Beck Group According to the AIA: “The LEED® Platinum renovation preserves an anchor in Grand Junction, and converts the 1918 landmark into one of the most energy efficient, sustainable historic buildings in the country. The design aims to be GSA’s first Site Net-Zero Energy facility on the National Register. Exemplifying sustainable preservation, it restores and showcases historic volumes and finishes, while sensitively incorporating innovative systems and drastically reducing energy consumption. Features include a roof canopy-mounted 123 kW photovoltaic array, variable-refrigerant flow heating and cooling systems, 32-well passive Geo-Exchange system, a thermally upgraded enclosure, energy recovery, wireless controls, fluorescent and LED lighting, and post-occupancy monitoring.”
After starting the year on a positive trend, the Architectural Billings Index ticked down last month. The March ABI score dropped sharply from February’s score of 50.7 to 48.8. This moves the index into negative territory as any score below 50 signifies a decrease in design services. The new projects inquiry, though, did tick up from 56.8 to 57.9. The sharpest declines were in the Northeast and Midwest, which posted scores of 46.8 and 46.6, respectively. The South (52.8) and West (50.7) both remained in positive territory. By sector, multi-family residential was the only positive marker at 52.1, while commercial/industrial (49.6), institutional (49.0), and mixed practice (47.6) dipped below 50. “This protracted softening in demand for design services is a bit of a surprise given the overall strength of the market the last year and a half,” said AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker. “Hopefully, some of this can be attributed to severe weather conditions over this past winter. We will have a better sense if there is a reason for more serious concern over the next couple of months.” The AIA has also announced a new metric to measure design contracts. According to the AIA, this will be a less subjective way to estimate future billings activities at architecture firms. “We determined that the most accurate predictor of future design workloads is the monthly change in the volume of new design contracts.” said Baker. In its inaugural measurement, the Design Contracts Index posted 48.2 in March.
After the Architecture Billings Index (ABI) posted positive gains in January, the question everyone was asking was, "What comes next?" Today, the AIA's monthly report answered that question with a bit more good news. The ABI was measured at 50.7 in February, which is up slightly from a January score of 50.4. So, how did this happen? The change was due to strong numbers posted in the South (52.8) and the West (50.5). But dragging the group down, the Northeast and Midwest both scored below 50 with scores of 48.3 and 47.6, respectively (any score below 50 indicates a decline). By sector, multi-family residential had the best month at 52.5, followed by commercial/industrial (51.9), institutional (49.6), and mixed practice (46.6). While the ABI saw a slight gain overall, the new projects inquiry index, dropped from 58.5 to 56.8. These postings, though, were likely negatively impacted by February's severe weather. “The unusually severe weather conditions in many parts of the country have obviously held back both design and construction activity,” said AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker in a statement. “The March and April readings will likely be a better indication of the underlying health of the design and construction markets. We are hearing reports of projects that had been previously shelved for extended periods of time coming back online as the economy improves.”
After months of slowed growth at the end of last year, the Architecture Billing Index ticked up slightly in January. The ABI score was measured at 50.4, up from 48.5 in December—and that’s good news because any score above 50 means positive growth. The positive number was largely due to growth in the South (53.5) and the West (51.1). The ABI dipped below 50 in both the Midwest and Northeast, with scores of 46.5 and 43.6, respectively. By sector, multi-family residential (51.8) and commercial/industrial (50.9) showed the strongest growth, while mixed practice (48.4) and institutional (46.5) both failed to post gains. And while January’s overall ABI was above 50, the new projects inquiry index dropped slightly from 59.2 to 58.5. Overall, January was a pretty good month. “There is enough optimism in the marketplace that business conditions should return to steady growth as the year progresses,” said AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker in a statement.