The AIA has released its Architecture Billings Index (ABI) for September, and the news looks good. According to the organization, the ABI score went to 51.6, up from 50.2 in August (any score above 50 reflects an increase in billings). The spike marks the fastest increase in the demand for design services since 2010. The AIA tied the upswing in billings to an increased demand for rental housing. “Going back to the third quarter of 2011, the multi-family residential sector has been the best performing segment of the construction field,” said AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker. “With high foreclosure levels in recent years, more stringent mortgage approvals and fewer people in the market to buy homes there has been a surge in demand for rental housing. The upturn in residential activity will hopefully spur more nonresidential construction.” As a leading economic indicator of construction activity, ABI reflects the approximate nine to twelve month lag time between architecture billings and construction spending. The diffusion indexes contained in the full report are derived from a monthly “Work-on-the-Boards” survey that is sent to a panel of AIA member-owned firms. The organization asks participants whether their billings increased, decreased, or stayed the same in the month that just ended as compared to the prior month, and the results are then compiled into the ABI. Any ABI score above 50 indicates an aggregate increase in billings. Scores below 50 indicate a decline. Here’s how the ABI broke down regionally in September: West (53.4), South (51.9), Northeast (49.5), Midwest (47.2). Here’s how the index broke down by sector: multi-family residential (57.3), institutional (51.0), commercial/industrial (48.4), mixed practice (47.8). The new projects inquiry index—an indicator of client interest in design services—also showed some growth. It came in at 57.3, compared to a mark of 57.2 the previous month.
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AIA Chicago will honor German-born architect Helmut Jahn later this month with a lifetime achievement award during its Designight event Oct. 26. Jahn is president and CEO of Murphy/Jahn, a firm with a formidable track record Chicago, including U of C's Mansueto Research Library, O’Hare’s United Airlines Terminal and the state of Illinois’ Thompson Center. His work in Germany is also extensive, including the well-known Sony Center in Berlin and the Messeturm in Frankfurt. Jahn will also receive a lifetime achievement award from the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat Thursday. AIA’s Designight is open to the public. Tickets are available at aiachicago.org or by calling (312) 376-2725.
Starchitect Daniel Libeskind will help judge this year’s Detroit by Design competition to design public spaces along the Detroit River. AIA’s Detroit Chapter is a sponsor of the competition, which will focus on the area between Cobo Hall and the Renaissance Center, and between Jefferson Avenue and the Detroit River. The site includes an entrance to the tunnel to Canada, the Port Authority Building, and Hart Plaza—a 14-acre space at the heart of downtown. Submissions are open through November 30. If Libeskind and the other jurors like your design, you could win $5,000 and a trip to the Motor City.
“It’s like déjà vu all over again,” AIA chief economist Kermit Baker said of the steep springtime drop reflected in May’s Architectural Billings Index (ABI). Baker was referring to the trend from 2011, when design activity took a substantial hit after an initially healthy first quarter. “But we don’t want to have a repeat of last year,” he added referring to the sluggish numbers that continued to shadow the profession through the fall. The new numbers were the worst since October and, Baker said, reflect trends in the larger economy. All of the regional sectors took on water, as the overall score went from a low of 48.4 in April to an even lower 45.8 in May (any score below 50 reflects a decrease). The South was hit the hardest with a drop to 46.1 from 49.0. The Midwest wasn’t far behind with a deeper dip to 46.8 from 50.1. The ever-lagging West went to 47.6 from 46.6. And the Northeast dropped to 48.6 from 51.0. The sector breakdown saw commercial/industrial stay in positive territory at 50.7, but not as strong as last month’s 53.8. Multi-family residential fell to 48.9 from 50.5, institutional went from to 45.6 from 46.6, and mixed practice went to 41.5 from 45.0. If anything, project inquiries remain something of contiguous silver lining, staying in positive territory for months at a time. May’s score was 54.0, a mild shift from April’s 54.4. But the reality on the ground belies the inquiry trend. “Last month we were willing to believe it was seasonality,” he said. “But there’s something more than weather related activity; it moved beyond that and it’s not incidental that we had a negative jobs report.” In addition to national issues, like jobs, Baker said that certain international trends that spook the larger market find their way into the ABI. He cited uncertainty in Europe and slowdowns in China and India as outside factors. When asked if the ebb and flow just at the fifty mark was the new normal Baker said that the industry, along with the country, is actually in recovery, albeit a very slow one. He noted that he’s hearing fewer negative reports on getting financing. “I don’t think we peaked out, but I think we’ll see longer term growth,” he said.
After roaring into New York last year, BIG is reaping rewards from the American Institute of Architects who bestowed an Honor Award on the firm's aptly-named "8 House" in Copenhagen (it looks like a figure-8 in plan). The AIA jury lavished praise: "people really 'live' in this newly created neighborhood," which "provides an invigorating sculptural form while creating the ramped 'pedestrian' street system." Ramps around 8 House make it bikable—from the street up to its 10th level penthouses—and two sloping green roofs total over 18,000 SF where the building reaches down to the ground.
Without a doubt the big winner at Wednesday's AIA/LA Design Awards, held in the shadow of Cesar Pelli's almost-done Red Building at the Pacific Design Center, was Neil Denari. In an unprecedented display of dominance his firm's No Mass House took home Best in Show for unbuilt work (Next LA Awards), his firm's HL23 Residential Tower in New York took home Best in Show for built work (Design Awards) and then Denari won the AIA/LA Gold Medal. Now that's a good night. (By the way, we thought Best In Show was reserved for dog shows, but that's besides the point...) In accepting the medal Denari, who was born in Texas, talked about being inspired not only by the light and sunshine of California, but also by its darkness, a tension that's palpable in his work. To check out more of the design awards winners check out the AIA/LA's new app on iTunes. And to check out the new Red Building you'll have to wait until it's finished early next year.
Frank Gehry is trying to save architecture, and it's about time. His company Gehry Technologies, which provides technology and related services to design and construction firms, on Tuesday announced a plan to bring together "the world's most distinguished architects" in a "strategic alliance" intended to transform the building and design industries through technology. In other words they've put together a really impressive advisory board. The list of architects, designers, and business leaders includes: David Childs, Zaha Hadid, Greg Lynn, Laurie Olin, Wolf Prix, David Rockwell, Moshe Safdie, Patrik Schumacher, and Ben van Berkel. That's no joke. Among other things, the group will strive to promote higher quality projects, greater efficiency, and more cost effective techniques. "We have a tremendous opportunity to be better and more efficient," said Gehry Technologies CEO Dayne Myers. He and Gehry Technologies' Chief Technology Officer Dennis Shelden suggested that the group, which will meet in person once a year and via conference call quarterly, could address the industry's crippling wastes in time, money, and materials by promoting better work flow and communication, among other things. "When this group speaks it's going to carry a bigger weight than any of them individually, or just Gehry Technologies," added Shelden. Kicking things off the company just announced a partnership with Autodesk to improve the capabilities of Building Information Management (BIM). In an unprompted statement from the AIA, which offered its support as well, AIA President Clark Manus pointed out that "as much as 30% to 50% of all time, money, materials, and resources that go into a construction project do not add value to the final product." That's impressive too, just not in a good way.
They’re back! Positive numbers for the Architecture Billings Index (ABI) jumped up in August to 51.4 from a dismal 45.1 in July where it had been stewing in negative land for months. (Anything over 50 indicates positive growth.) Together with a sharp rise as well in Project Inquiries to 56.9 (up from 53.7), the good news seems cautiously solid. “This turnaround in demand for design services is a surprise,” said AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker. Regional averages, however, remained below the positive bar across the country indicating that firms generally are still struggling. These numbers predate the next injection of stimulus money—whatever shape it takes—which will be sure to give another jolt. Unless, of course, billings are tracking the roller-coaster antics of the stock market. “The stock market is doing what the economy is doing which is not moving solidly in one direction, either way,” Baker said by phone. “The stop-start that we have seen over the past two years is going to stay with us. I would love to believe that these latest numbers are the start of a Grand Recovery. And maybe they are. The evidence is just not there yet to be sure.”
For the fifth straight month the Architecture Billings Index (ABI) has posted negative figures, with the only positive number on the chart coming from billing inquiries. The overall number dropped from 46.3 in June to 45.1 in July (any ABI number below 50 is considered negative). AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker once again pointed to the larger economy as the source of industry woes. “The stuff that’s going on with the national level is consistent with what we’re experiencing,” said Baker, adding that given the current political situation he didn’t think another stimulus package would make it through Congress. “The politics of that is going to be tough; there’s a problem with increased spending,” he said. Even if it did, the last package didn’t really trickle down to the industry. “I have a hunch if there’s a chance it would go through, it would look a lot like the last stimulus and architects didn’t get a lot from that,” he said. There were no regional leaders this time out, with all areas falling below 50. The West went from 51.7 to 46.6, the Midwest 44.6 to 44.9, the South 47.3 to 46.9, and the Northeast went from 47.6 to 46.4. In the sector breakdown, mixed practices dove from 51.7 to 47.1, while commercial/institutional slipped from 50.0 to 47.9. Multi-family residential fell from 49.6 to 44.7, and institutional shifted from 45.9 to 47.2. Meanwhile, last month’s light at the end of the tunnel, a project inquiry index of 58.1 got a lot smaller, falling to 53.7. While still a positive number, Baker said last month’s inquiries didn’t translate into good numbers for this month. “It’s going to take a broader turnaround in the economy,” he concluded.
Bachelorette Pad. This fall, Barbie is finally becoming an architect—and getting a new house—built with the latest sustainable materials. Mattel teamed up with AIA to host a competition to design Barbie’s new home and Ting Li and Maja Parklar's design for the Malibu Beach House took the top prize. Their design features a green roof, solar panels, bamboo flooring, and low VOC paints. More at Inhabitat. Cheating on the Test. In a major blow for public safety, the New York Post reported that American Standard Testing and Consulting Labs—the company responsible for testing the safety and strength of concrete in projects like LaGuardia Airport, the Lincoln Tunnel, and Yankee Stadium—faked concrete test results. DOB inspectors have begun conducting spot checks and the buildings were found safe. Transit Geography. Using Google Maps, Mapnificent illustrates how far public transportation users can go in a specified amount. While only available in major global cities, the maps allow users to calculate transportation times at two intersecting areas, highlighting possible travel distances. Now we can figure out exactly how far public transportation takes us in a New York minute. Hanging in There. Nasa’s Hangar One at Moffet Field in San Francisco—built in 1933 for the USS Macon Navy airship—was once the largest freestanding structure in the world, but funding to renovate the massive facility have fallen through according to Gizmodo. NASA is in the process of pursuing alternative reuse options for the historic modern landmark.
Objects of Ruin. Israeli artist Ofra Lapid has taken society's obsession with ruin to a whole new level. Inspired by amateur photographs from North Dakota's urban and rural decay, Lapid's Broken Houses series consists of small models of the dilapidated buildings that are re-photographed without their original context. Her work produces an eerie sense of reality set against a stark grey background. Check out more images after the jump. Tree Time. A place for every tree, and every tree in its place. Two maps from New York and Philadelphia are pinpointing the exact location of trees in each city. The Dirt reported that Edward S. Bernard and Ken Chaya have produced an illustrated map entitled Central Park Entire that seeks to honor the work of landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux by graphically representing all of the flora and fauna of Central Park. In Philadelphia, the PhillyTreeMap provides a similarly detailed online database that crowdsources each green public and private property. Making Connections. According to the Daily Joural of Commerce Oregon, the AIA will launch an online matchmaking service in September for stalled development projects and their potential real-estate investors in hopes of giving life to long-stalled projects while compiling data that helps identify problem developments. Parklet, PA. Philly is the latest city to jump off the bandwagon and set up a park, joining pavement-to-parks pioneers New York and San Francisco. The city will convert parking spots into miniature parks as a low-cost way to open up green space in University City. Additional parklets could be introduced the upcoming years pending the success of their pilot project.
For a 120-year-old magazine, Architectural Record went impressively new-fangled in announcing its new editor-in-chief, Cathleen McGuigan, with word leaking out on Facebook Monday followed by rounds of Twitter and a formal blog posting at the Arc Rec website this morning. A veteran architecture critic and editor at Newsweek for over 25 years, McGuigan brings wide access and a deep knowledge of the issues to the post held for some 15 years by Robert Ivy, who now heads the American Institute of Architects in Washington DC. In a phone interview, McGuigan sounded like she was just absorbing the news herself. “It’s a really big deal,” she said, appreciatively. With a plan for “evolution not revolution,” she described her goals to “maintain Record’s high standards of analysis, forward-looking reporting on technology and innovation, and sharp eye on emerging generations and trends.” Asked what she felt was the central issue in architecture today, she responded that while the economy was the obvious answer, there was an underlying matter of equal significance with more lasting impact. “Design is still overlooked in this country,” she said. “And it is essential to keep the importance of good architecture and the careful development of cities front and center to the widest possible audience.” With a plan to be a very “hands-on editor,” McQuigan brings a newshound’s nose to the job, but is looking forward to working with the magazine’s seasoned staff and its reputation as a recording angel of great architectural images, but not as eye candy, she noted, “but with pictures that give information.” She added that with the magazine newly independent of the AIA—Arc Rec was the official mouthpiece of the institute for over ten years—it was now discovering just how loyal its readers are. The May edition was its largest issue in three years. McGuigan starts officially on May 23rd.