Heading into the holidays, the AIA has more good economic news to report: the Architectural Billings Index (ABI) has recorded a third straight month of growth. The October score was 52.8, up from September's 51.6 (any score above 50 indicates a growth in billings). The uptick reflects improving conditions in the housing market and real estate more broadly. All four regions were in positive territory, with the South leading at 52.8, followed by the Northeast at 52.6, the West at 51.8, and the Midwest at 50.8. By sector, multi-family housing performed the strongest (59.2), followed by mixed practice (52.4), and institutional (51.4). The industrial/commercial sector lagged behind in negative territory (48.0) “With three straight monthly gains – and the past two being quite strong – it’s beginning to look like demand for design services has turned the corner,” said AIA Chief Economist, Kermit Baker, said in a statement. Project inquiries also grew, from 57.3 in September to 59.4 in October.
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Barriers or freshwater wetlands? New building codes? What about porous pavements or floating city blocks? These were just a few of the ideas batted around at AIANY’s discussion and fundraiser, “Designing the City after Superstorm Sandy,” at the Center for Architecture last Thursday evening. The panel, moderated by Michael Kimmelman, architecture critic for The New York Times, consisted of the city’s leading designers, architects, scientists, and government officials. While each panelist came to the conversation with a different approach and set of strategies, all agreed that change is necessary and new solutions urgent. “There’s a certain consensus about taking steps in the long-run,” said Kimmelman. The participants on the panel included Cynthia Barton, Housing Recovery Plan Manager at the NYC Office of Emergency Management; Howard Slatkin, Director of Sustainability and Deputy Director of Strategic Planning for the city; Dr. Klaus Jacob, a geophysicist and Special Research Scientist at Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory; Stephen Cassell, principal architect at ARO; Donna Walcavage, landscape architect and urban designer; and Robert M. Rogers, partner of Rogers Marvel Architects. The design solutions are part of a larger and more complex issue that call for us to “re-frame the ways we engage with the water,” said Cassell whose ideas helped to spearhead the Rising Currents exhibit at MoMA in 2010. And as Kimmelman pointed out in his introduction, will force us to decide, “what parts of the city are necessary to change, salvage and develop and what parts we cannot.” Cassell and Walcavage advocate for what they term “soft solutions” such as freshwater wetlands and upland parks that won’t disrupt the balance of the ecosystem as oppose to the much talked about barriers. Dr. Jacob referred to himself as a “barrier skeptic.” He hasn’t completely ruled them out, but believes that other preventive measures should be considered, including regulations and large-scale regional planning with New Jersey, Connecticut, and New York. The solutions were at once specific and lofty, and Kimmelman challenged the panelists during the Q&A session when he asked: “Who will legislate and have authority? Why will something change now?” Many of the participants argued that Hurricane Sandy is a turning point, and there’s simply too much at stake. Rogers pointed out that New York City is a “grid of real estate” and the significant investment in waterfront property will prompt developers and the city to be pro-active whether that means implementing new codes and regulations or altering the landscape by creating saltwater marshes to act as buffers against rising sea levels and storms. A few panelists suggested that an improved version of Robert Moses would lead the way or joked that perhaps a benevolent god would appear. Even though Kimmelman remained ambivalent and questioned why strong and cohesive leadership would emerge now to help facilitate change, it looks like the city is already taking action. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has asked the Urban Green Council to launch a Building Resiliency Task Force, which will consist of leading professionals in New York City real estate. In an announcement last week, Urban Green said that the Task Force’s main objective is “to take an in-depth look at how to better prepare our buildings for future storms and infrastructure failures.” A list of recommendations will be released in summer of 2013.
On the heels of a surprising, if tenuous, victory in court, preservationists gathered Thursday evening at the Chicago Architecture Foundation to celebrate the opening of Reconsidering an Icon: Creative Conversations About Prentice Women’s Hospital, an exhibition that showcases re-use proposals for Bertrand Goldberg’s threatened icon. Some of the 71 ideas presented addressed Northwestern University’s stipulations for high-density wet-lab research space on the site, while some imagined other uses for the cloverleaf tower and its blocky podium. The winning proposal, by Cyril Marsollier and Wallo Villacorta, was entitled The Buildings are sleeping, you should go and wake them up, she says. Named for a Robert Montgomery quote, the proposal cleverly slices the existing Prentice in half, maintaining its characteristic symmetry in reflection. Bisecting an architectural icon is a radical proposal by preservation standards, but it essentially preserves the form while meeting Northwestern’s specifications. Superimpositions: Prentice as Additive Icon, by Noel Turgeon and Natalya Egon, took second place. Their subtly provocative suggestion was to stack new buildings atop Prentice, creating a “vertical timeline of icons” over time. If we raze our icons every 35 years, it seems to suggest, we should have no problem piling on a few more. The Superimpositions team was not so wry in their presentation, but other suggestions were outright sarcastic. A solicited entry from Tim Brown Architecture plainly laid out the four steps to achieving his Probable Prentice, which described Northwestern’s reasoning as intransigent, unreasonable, and culminating in a boxy, mediocre replacement. Other proposed uses ranged from The Hotel Bertrand to Out to Pasture, in which a hollowed out Prentice stores grain amid the pastures of a completely leveled Streeterville. Third place winners James Wild et al. brought some bucolic charm to their Bridging Prentice design, as well, adding a green roof to the existing podium and stretching it into an elevated park that runs eastward beneath a new 500,000-square-foot research facility. The Chicago Architectural Club, CAF and AIA Chicago cosponsored the competition, which serves as this year’s Chicago Prize Competition. The show will be on display in the Architecture Foundation’s Lecture Hall in the lobby of 224 S. Michigan Ave. through February 8, 2013. Check out more from the winners in the gallery below or flip through all 71 competition entries in the official flip book:
Friday marked Designight 2012—AIA Chicago’s annual awards gala—which brought nearly 1,000 members of the area’s design community together at Navy Pier to recognize 39 projects in four awards categories: Distinguished Building, Interior Architecture, Divine Detail, and Sustainability Leadership. John Ronan’s Poetry Foundation; Perkins+Will’s Universidade Agostinho Neto in Luanda, Angola; Sheehan Partners’ Facebook Data Center in Prineville, Ore.; and David Woodhouse Architects’ Richard J. Daley Library IDEA Commons in Chicago (featured in the October Midwest issue of AN Midwest) were among the repeat winners of the night. Helmut Jahn accepted a lifetime achievement award, calling on the designers present to imagine a better future and then “make that future happen.” On behalf of his firm, Jahn also formally adopted the changes reported earlier—a new name, JAHN, and the ascension of Francisco Gonzalez-Pulido to share design leadership with Jahn. Click on a thumbnail to launch the slideshow. The full list of winners and all 262 projects entered into the competition can be found on AIA Chicago's website.
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.
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.”