For the duration of the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, AN will use this column to keep our readers up to date on how the pandemic is affecting architecture and related industries. This weekly article is meant to digest the latest major developments in the crisis and synthesize broader patterns and what they could mean for architecture in the United States. The previous edition of the column can be found here. Even as the country starts reopening, this week’s coronavirus-related architecture news hasn’t been great. Though the country is reopening, the effects of the past few weeks of lockdown are becoming clearer. April’s Architecture Billing Index numbers came out, and they were bleak across all sectors and regions, and cultural institutions are grappling with funding cuts and an uncertain future. While museums in Texas are already open again, albeit with social distancing and monitoring measures in place, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is planning on waiting until August to welcome visitors. It has canceled all events for the rest of the year, though, and likely won’t reopen with the same capacity as before. But at least the Met is planning on reopening—a UNESCO and International Council of Museums report came out this week saying that 13 percent of museums worldwide are not likely to reopen. The reconstruction of London’s Globe theater may also be a casualty of the pandemic as the nonprofit company occupying it is ineligible for government relief funds. Meanwhile, Philadelphia, faced with a financial shortfall like many American cities, is looking at a budget that would cut all arts funding, which could devastate the city’s cultural scene. Los Angeles is dealing with its funding cuts differently—the Los Angeles City Council approved measures to use real estate development fees to fund grants for local artists and cultural organizations. Looking internationally, the Venice Architecture Biennale is coping by pushing this year’s festival to 2021, joining the London Design Biennale and associated design fairs. Hopefully, the summer will bring sunnier news!
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The Architecture Billings Index (ABI), the measure the AIA uses to track design services demand, took a dour downturn in March 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic shook economic confidence and locked up job sites—but April’s numbers, released this morning, are much worse. The ABI is a composite number that factors in regional averages, design demand by sector, project inquiries, and existing design contracts. Anything over 50 represents month-over-month growth, anything under is a decrease. In March, billings had dropped to 33.3, the steeped decline ever recorded in the metric’s 25-year history, but in April the ABI slid even further to 29.5. Regionally, the Northeast was predictably hit the hardest, as demand slid to 23.0. The West figures were the strongest at 38.1 (still severe contraction), while the Midwest came in at 31.2 and the South at 31.1. This is unsurprising, as construction, even a month later, remains highly constricted across the U.S. even as some cities have begun tentatively allowing non-essential construction again. Sector-wise, institutional work remained the strongest, as expected, at 36.1, while the commercial and industrial sectors dropped to a paltry 27.8. Multi-family residential projects fell to 30.3, and mixed practice projects came in at 29.0. In March, all four typologies were in the mid-to-low 40s range. Inquiries into new projects, which had dropped to 27.1 in March, rose to 28.4, while the design contracts index remained low at 27.6. “With the dramatic deceleration that we have seen in the economy since mid-March,” wrote AIA chief economist Kermit Baker, Hon. AIA, “it’s not surprising that businesses and households are waiting for signs of stability before proceeding with new facilities. Once business activity resumes, demand for design services should pick up fairly quickly. Unfortunately, the precipitous drop in demand for design services will have lasting consequences for some firms.”
For the duration of the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, AN will use this column to keep our readers up to date on how the pandemic is affecting architecture and related industries. This weekly article is meant to digest the latest major developments in the crisis and synthesize broader patterns and what they could mean for architecture in the United States. The previous edition of the column can be found here. As summer approaches, the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic is at a crossroads. States are reopening, some slower than others, and are waiting to see what the season brings. The reopening on nonessential construction sites could mean that better times are coming for architects, but the future is still uncertain, and this week’s architecture-related coronavirus news reflects that. In less than rosy news, a report from a group of nonprofits related to New York’s parks said the city’s green spaces were likely to suffer because of the pandemic’s economic fallout. Cuts in both public funding and private donations are expected to hit the parks hard this year, a blow to a system that has crept back from a pretty dire state in only the past couple of decades. Job loss continued in April, according to numbers that were released earlier this week. Unsurprisingly, construction jobs were hit hard, with nearly one million lost in April. Next month’s numbers should show whether or not the slow reopening of certain construction sites will affect those numbers. Obviously, construction jobs are not the only AEC-related positions lost across the country—cultural institution jobs across New York City have disappeared as museums facing budget shortfalls have laid off and furloughed hundreds, architecture firms have cut positions, and Airbnb laid off almost 2,000 employees. Airbnb is not the only property tech company facing issues. WeWork, which in the past year went from one of the most hyped startups in the world to a symbol of venture capital hubris, is facing lawsuits from tenants who are legally required to work from home and therefore do not want to pay rent. The legal battle is only a small part of the much broader question about what the future of workspaces will be now that recent trends like coworking and open floor plans seem like surefire ways to spread disease. In happier news, there are signs that the design world is already adapting to change. While the future of the 2020 Venice Architecture Biennale is still in doubt—Australia has already withdrawn from the festival—Russia’s pavilion (appropriately titled Open?) has moved online. And the State Department is distributing a version of a guide made by the AIA to help administrations select alternative treatment sites for coronavirus cases. The second edition of the COVID-19 Alternative Care Sites Assessment Tool is now being distributed around the world. Hopefully, next week will bring more good news.
For the duration of the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, AN will use this column to keep our readers up to date on how the pandemic is affecting architecture and related industries. This weekly article is meant to digest the latest major developments in the crisis and synthesize broader patterns and what they could mean for architecture in the United States. The previous edition of the column can be found here. In the last column, I covered what firm owners need to know about the federal coronavirus-related relief programs, and this week I’m looking at what (former) employees should know. If you’re being laid off for the first time, it can be a scary and confusing experience, but it’s not the end of the world (I’m speaking from personal experience), and, given the way the Architecture Billings Index has been heading, you are probably not alone in losing your job. That being said, some basic information helps a lot, and there are also some added twists of getting laid off during the pandemic that make this moment different. I’m not an accountant, and this column isn’t a substitute for professional financial advice, but there are a few basic pointers that can help anyone. Traditional employment assistance is available to employees who have been laid off or furloughed and comes in the form of taxable weekly payments to you as long as you’re unemployed for up to six months. It’s administered by states, so every state has a different filing website, has different requirements, and offers different benefits, but you can expect to receive a certain portion of your previous income. It’s a really helpful way to get money without a lot of strings attached to help keep you afloat. In normal times, the process is pretty straightforward, and you can keep getting money as long as you affirm that you’re looking for a job and attend a few meetings. But these aren’t normal times—generally, states are overwhelmed by the number of claims thanks to unprecedented job losses, so there are a lot of delays at every step of the process. Do not give up if you are unable to apply online or over the phone on your first try. Application websites are crashing, state helplines are backed up, and benefits are taking weeks to go out, so patience is critical. If you do apply and get rejected, file an appeal while you figure out why you were rejected—because of the backlog, it may take weeks to find out why you were rejected and get your application amended, and an appeal may help you get back payments if you get approved later on. Because the system is so slow, take extra care to make sure that you’ve filled out the application as fully as possible. Rochester, New York’s Democrat and Chronicle interviewed New York State Department of Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon, who said that incorrectly entered federal employer identification numbers were slowing down many applications and suggested that applicants be sure to get those numbers from their former employers when they get laid off. There are also new benefits temporarily available: Pandemic unemployment assistance (PUA), which the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act created, offers an additional $600 per week on top of traditional unemployment benefits. Freelancers are also eligible for PUA, even though they are excluded from most unemployment benefits. Depending on your state, you may have to apply for these benefits separately from traditional benefits—and the process may not go smoothly. Philadelphia magazine reported that Pennsylvania’s system hasn’t made it easy for many there to get their money, and the Hartford Courant reported similar problems in Connecticut. Though exact eligibility terms vary across states, according to Benjamin Sargent, an accountant who works with creative professionals, “you can be eligible for partial unemployment benefits,” thanks to PUA, so employees who’ve had their hours cut or pay reduced may be able to apply. If you have been able to get unemployment benefits, keep in mind that you may lose traditional benefits if you choose not to go back to a job that you’ve been furloughed from, but you may still be eligible for PUA if you are taking care of someone sick from COVID-19 or if you are taking care of children home because of closed schools. Aside from applying for unemployment benefits, what can you do? Brandon Hubbard, author of The Architect’s Guide, had some emotional advice: “Don’t beat yourself up, what’s happening to the economy is not your fault, and the anxiety and devastation you’re experiencing is understandable. Staying calm and making rational decisions during a time of uncertainty is essential.” Ruben Cano, managing partner at 52X Consulting, a recruiting company specializing in architecture and related fields, advised job-seekers to not be too picky, saying that in the long run, it’s often better to accept an underwhelming offer than stay unemployed. “Value continuity over income,” Cano said. “After 2008, far too often we’d see people lose opportunities by over-negotiating without leverage…When the market rebounds, you will be ahead of those re-entering the workforce who spent time on the bench.” As the job market tightens, flexibility will help, too. “Do not become too narrowly focused or philosophically rigid,” Cano said. If you’re lucky enough to still have a job, Hubbard had some advice about how to keep it: “Try to position yourself as essential rather than peripheral to your projects, so that it would be difficult to let you go and still meet deadlines.” But, he advised, there’s more to being valued than just being important. “Be collegial to managers, peers, consultants, and support staff. Being nice won't necessarily save you, but being unpleasant will almost certainly hurt,” Hubbard said. Sargent, who has published a financial FAQ on his company’s site, has advised belt-tightening just to be safe. “If you’re still working, cut your expenses and save as much as you can to prepare in case you do lose your job…If you've been saving for a rainy day, today is that day. Now more than ever a household budget is a critical planning tool to know how long that savings will last.” If you do have a job, be prepared to lose it. Layoffs can be stressful, and being mentally prepared to navigate the transition to unemployment can make it a little easier. Shota Vashakmadze, who has been running The Architecture Lobby’s COVID Response Team, said that many of the architects and designers he had talked to felt unprepared to discuss the terms of a layoff and what their options might be. “Architects don’t feel comfortable in this area, but many people we talked to are realizing the need to be informed and organized,” he said. The Lobby, which is advocating for unionization and cooperativization in response to the pandemic, is running an anonymous survey to gauge the crisis’s impact on the industry, and the results may help give architects and designers a sense of what others are going through. Jordan Weissman at Slate wrote about another option for organized workers that the Los Angeles Times employees have adopted: work sharing. The strategy involves workers forming an agreement to collectively bear the burdens of labor cuts, and allows them to collectively file for unemployment benefits. As Weissman reported, work sharing is not well known in this country, and may be a difficult option to pursue because of that, but it is a possibility. In other news, some of the effects of the pandemic are potentially passing: Pop-up coronavirus hospitals are winding down, construction sites are reopening, and Italian manufacturers are restarting. Also, this year’s Serpentine Pavilion will open next year, and students at the Yale School of Architecture have organized to work with the school’s administration for a better response to the pandemic. Until next time, be well!
In a somewhat unsurprising turn of events, especially given the special report the AIA released on April 10, the Architecture Billings Index (ABI) for March 2020 is painting a dire portrait of the state of architectural services demand. Whereas the ABI in February 2020 painted a rosy picture of demand at 53.4 (50 is the baseline and represents no change, higher numbers represent an increase and lower numbers a decrease), March billings came in 33.3. This 20.1 swing is, according to the AIA, the largest downturn ever recorded in the ABI’s 25-year history. Even the 2001 recession only pushed demand down by 9.4 points, while the housing crash in 2008 decreased billings by 8.3 points. Inquiries into new design contracts didn’t fare much better, falling from 52.0 in February to 27.1 in March. Also unsurprising were the regional breakdowns; the Northeast was obviously hit the hardest—falling to 38.4—thanks to construction freezes in New York, Boston, and other major cities. The Midwest and South both fell to 44.2, while the Western states saw the lowest drop, with billings only dropping to 45.3. Industry-wise, contrary to what one would first assume given the dour predictions on the housing market from last month’s HDTS Special Report, residential design demand, falling to 43.3, didn’t actually fare the worst. Institutional projects, typically where firms gravitate towards during times of uncertainty due to their long timescales and stability of their clients, fell to 46.9, while commercial and industrial projects fell to 41.9. The firms surveyed by the AIA painted accordingly less-than-optimistic pictures of their future operations. Most of them are cutting back on expenses to deal with the slowdown in work and uncertainty about the global economy: 53 percent of firms have put a hiring freeze in place, while an additional 15 percent are thinking about one, while 32 percent reported freezing staff salaries, and another 12 percent has cut them. According to the AIA, on average, firms expect revenue to drop 17 percent over the next three months. Overall, 36 percent of the firms surveyed “predict that it will have a serious to devastating impact,” which doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. We’ll have to wait for the April ABI to be released for a more detailed prognosis, but in the meantime, the AIA has assembled a business continuity guide to help firms navigate the post-COVID-19 landscape.
In February of this year, I gave a short talk to our Yale students about the economy and their employment prospects, suggesting that while all indicators remained strong and jobs were plentiful, it had been quite some time since our last downturn. Having seen several during my career I suggested that they would likely see a recession sometime in theirs, but cast doubt on whether we’d ever see anything as serious as 2008. If only… It’s too early to be making nuanced arguments about the future, as we face down what is undoubtedly going to be a much more serious situation in the second half of 2020. So, here are ten first thoughts about how our profession may be impacted, and potentially transformed, as a result. Choose two or three as prompts to consider the future once the crisis has passed. 1. Economics: While there are mixed reports of how hard a recession might hit the industry, it’s already clear that certain building types, particularly retail and commercial office, will fall off the profession’s radar for several years while overall the AEC sector contracts across the board. Another wave of fierce fee competition, as surviving firms fight for contracts, will ensue. Can some firms fight above the fray? 2. Demographics: If the downturn lasts more than a year, another “lost generation” of students, taking their considerable design and thinking talents into an environment that values “design thinking,” will leave the profession never to return. If the 2008 recession eliminated some of the older Baby Boomers who were unable to grasp technology and keep their firms alive, the last of the Boomers may find themselves with the same fate. But with retirement portfolios largely destroyed, will there be hangers-on? 3. Jobs: New jobs, not many. Firms will trim their excesses and dead weight, and may do some strategic replacement, meaning when the upturn comes there’s a shortage of talent, as firms don’t have the reserves to keep staff despite the very high costs of replacement. Will the talent be there to be hired? Remote work may be a desirable option to improve work-life balance. 4. Technology: The last recession saw the profession’s transition from CAD to BIM. Eleven years later there is a much larger array of tools available: big data, analytics, reality capture, computational design, machine learning (to name a few) and lots of “BuildTech” development. Some practices will embrace these tools to redefine their capabilities; others, like many in 2008, will use new technologies (like BIM) toward very old ends (making better drawings). 5. Practice methods: As the entirety of practice has demonstrated an ability to work digitally and remotely, talent networks for firms will widen beyond locale, and intensified data-based processes and deliverable will (for firms willing to experiment further) open opportunities to create new value through digital service like analytics, digital fabrication, and augmented reality/experience. 6. Practice structure: Most practices moved their work seamlessly out of the office and to their respective homes, showing that a physical office may not be essential to running a firm. A new generation of younger, digitally-facile practices, with workers and talent distributed globally, will emerge to compete with traditional incumbents. They’ll be lithe, flexible, less subject to economic dynamics, and won’t know each other as well. The design version of the “gig” economy may emerge, focused less on full projects, and more on discrete tasks. 7. Construction: Between health concerns, immigration, supply stream instability and pricing pressures, builders will turn strongly to automation on the site and prefabrication off it. The necessary tools and processes require digital infrastructure unsuited to traditional drawing and builders will find it, either from their architects or elsewhere. Government funding of projects may drive digital protocols as a requirement, and the industry would be forced toward standards, finally, as a result. 8. Talent: “Survival of the fittest” suggests that some of the best firms of this decade will emerge from the crucible of the crisis, and today’s students will watch carefully from the academic sidelines, preparing themselves for the new realities of the recovery and demanding from their educators what they think is important to prepare them for the workplace. The survivors will define that talent agenda, which is likely to be a heady mix of technological prowess, ability to collaborate directly and remotely, and flexible work style and technique. 9. Space: Some of the ineffable priorities of design will give way to more epidemiological considerations: how does this space perform in a pandemic? Are occupants more or less healthy? Can it be cleaned? Can it perform, technically, spatially, and aesthetically under new rules of interaction and social distance? 10. The City: Cities have been hardest by COVID-19, calling into question the challenges of proximity and density. If social distancing and “home stay” are regular strategies to manage pandemic, the changing nature of urban space—and the potential revival of the more spacious suburbs—are opportunities for architects to rethink and redefine fundamentals of living. There’s little doubt the post-COVID-19 world will look different—politically, economically and architecturally—than it looked in February. The duration and depth of the downturn will determine the potency of the ideas suggested above. Firm leaders are best prepared when they spend some of their current efforts managing through turbulent times toward that future, whatever it might be. Phil Bernstein, FAIA, is an associate dean and senior lecturer at the Yale School of Architecture and a former vice president at Autodesk. He spent most of his practice career at Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects. His book Architecture Design Data: Practice Competency in the Era of Computation, was published by Birkhauser in 2018. This article was originally published at the request of the AIA Connecticut.
On April 8, AN shared news that London-headquartered global architecture firm Foster + Partners, one of the largest architecture practices in the United Kingdom, had resorted to company-wide staff curtailments—namely furloughs and pay cuts—as a direct result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis. At the time, Foster + Partners was the first firm of such enormity to make public such measures. Now, just over a week later, several other major international firms with headquarters in both the U.K. and United States have announced similar belt-tightening actions. Below is a list of large-sized firms that AN is aware of having done so—and, unfortunately, this list is likely to grow as the pandemic continues to upend the architecture, engineering, and construction industry. We will add to it as new examples are announced and verified. And to keep up to date on the myriad ways in which the coronavirus is affecting architecture and related industries, check out AN’s weekly Corona Column. Zaha Hadid Architects has been in the news for other more celebratory reasons as of late, but the firm has also enacted furloughs albeit on a very small scale at this point. As reported by Building Design on April 14, ZHA has furloughed 15 of its 348 London-based employees, all in office maintenance positions that couldn't be performed while working remotely from home. On the bright side, ZHA also announced that its office in Beijing has since reopened and has plans to further expand its footprint in China “due to an increasing workloads.” Building Design also reported that Grimshaw Architects “was looking at putting a number of staff on furlough and reducing hours for some others.” The London-headquartered practice is also mulling redundancies in the wake of its Heathrow Airport expansion project being deemed illegal. Another British mega-firm, the venerable, 900-plus-employee practice BDP, which recently aided in the transformation of a sprawling exhibition center into the NHS Nightingale Hospital London, is also going into self-preservation mode by furloughing staff. As the firm’s chief executive, John McManus, told Building: “The economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the entire construction industry has led to our decision to furlough a number of staff during the lockdown period. Our priority at this point is to protect jobs and retain our talented staff during this unprecedented global crisis.” As reported by Blair Kamin, architecture critic for the Chicago Tribune, some notable practices that are based out of or that have major presences in the Windy City have been forced to make unfortunate adjustments. They include Skidmore Owings & Merrill, which has resorted to “sweeping cost-savings measures” such as pay cuts for senior leadership, companywide temporary salary reductions, and placing an unknown number of employees on furlough. When asked about any changes, a spokeswoman for Studio Gang gave Kamin a more optimistic response, but did not answer direct questions about temporary layoffs, saying: “By and large, we have experienced a seamless transition into the new, hopefully temporary, normal.” Perkins and Will has reportedly not slashed staff or salaries at its Chicago headquarters as a result of the pandemic. However, the firm’s managing director, Gina Berndt, told Kamin via email that the “situation remains very uncertain.” While obviously not a firm, The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has also made drastic cuts due to the pandemic. As the Architects' Journal reported on April 9, RIBA, which is also in the midst of an abrupt internal turmoil of a different sort, has furloughed a third of its staff, which amounts to about 100 people: “Like many other organisations, the RIBA will furlough 30 percent of our UK-based employees through the UK government coronavirus job retention scheme,” said RIBA chief executive Alan Vallance in a statement. “This will help safeguard jobs and ensure a level of financial security for the institute.”
For the duration of the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, AN will use this column to keep our readers up to date on how the pandemic is affecting architecture and related industries. This weekly article is meant to digest the latest major developments in the crisis and synthesize broader patterns and what they could mean for architecture in the United States. The previous edition of the column can be found here. It’s been three weeks since President Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a $2 trillion relief effort meant to bring the United States economy back from the brink of disaster. Much of that measure was meant to help the country’s millions of small businesses, architecture firms among them, but the rollout of the act’s programs has been rocky and confusing, and at least one of the new programs has already run out of money. While the relief programs don’t target architecture firms specifically, many may be helpful for the many small studios impacted by the crisis, so I thought it might be helpful to write a brief introduction to the programs. There are many resources linked throughout the article, and because so much of this information is changing so quickly, we may update this article as needed. Obviously, many architects in the U.S. don’t run their own firms, but this article will focus on new resources now available for small business owners, and AN will look at options for other professionals in future articles. The two biggest programs architects running small firms need to know are the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program (EIDL). Both define small businesses as having 500 or fewer employees and are also available for independent contractors. The PPP has reportedly run out of money for now, though it may be replenished if the federal government can pass more legislation. The EIDL also ran out of money and has stopped accepting applications, and may have been rationing what was left. Both programs had experienced long delays as the government was swamped with applications, so if you’re interested in them, it may be helpful to prep application materials to apply as quickly as possible should more funds open up.
Payroll Protection Program (PPP)The PPP created forgivable loans that come with the following stipulations:
- The loans cover 8 weeks of payroll and “most mortgage interest, rent, and utility costs,” according to the Treasury Department.
- Companies can borrow up to $10 million, though the loan will only cover $100,000 of payroll per employee.
- Only about 25 percent of the loan can cover non-payroll costs.
- Companies have to keep or rehire employees laid off or furloughed since February 15, 2020, in order for the loans to be fully forgiven, though partial forgiveness will also be offered.
- The loans have a 0.5 percent fixed rate, and payments are automatically deferred for six months.
- The loans do not require collateral.
- Applications are available and are being received now, and they need to be processed by June 30, 2020.
Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program (EIDL)The EIDL is not a new program, but the CARES Act gave it more money and took away some restrictions. It’s run through the federal government’s Small Business Administration (SBA), and is meant to support businesses in areas that have declared emergencies (all 50 states have active states of emergency because of the COVID-19 pandemic). The EIDL provides low-interest loans that do not have to be completely paid back. The EIDL has run out of money and is not currently accepting applications, but the government may expand the program in the future. Application information should be available here if the program reopens. Part of what was new about the EIDL program is that the first $10,000 of the loan was supposed to be available within three days of applying and was offered as a grant called the EIDL Emergency Advance. Here are the basics about EIDL:
- Borrowers apply directly through the SBA, not a third-party lender.
- Applications were open through December 30, 2020.
- Loans were typically available in amounts up to $2 million, although…
- The New York Times reported that loan amounts may be capped at just $15,000 because of a lack of funding.
To put it lightly, the COVID-19 pandemic has precipitated more than just a passing hiccup in the daily business operations of architecture firms large and small. While the long-term implications of the deadly viral outbreak on the business of designing buildings have yet to be fully grasped, the immediate fallout has been nothing short of rollercoaster-like. Yet for most practices, things are very much businesses as usual albeit with major alterations, particularly with regard to workflow and staffing. To help firms more smoothly navigate these turbulent and unpredictable times, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) has released a comprehensive Architect’s Guide to Business Continuity. Geared to help guide firms through a wide range of “adverse business conditions” including for example, global pandemics, the 50-plus-page guide provides insight into how to broach a variety of crucial areas—staff management, supply chains, technology, stakeholders, all-important reputation—with minimal disruption. The guide identifies, elaborates on, and offers guidance on how to respond to a range of potentially business-disrupting hazards including natural ones (sea-level rise, wildfires, drought, and other natural phenomena, many of them exacerbated by climate change) as well as anthropogenic hazards and system failures (cyber attacks, terrorism, arson, supply chain disruption, civil unrest, utility interrupt, pandemics, etc). “Firms across the country are facing pressures from all sides—from transitioning offices to teleworking models, to work stoppages, to repositioning their businesses to adapt to changing client needs,” said AIA executive vice president/chief executive officer Robert Ivy, FAIA, in a press statement. “This guide is meant to help firms be nimble during any kind of disruption, whether environmental or manmade. It also should support them in making informed decisions during economic uncertainties so they can be best poised to address the future.” Per a March 23 survey conducted by the AIA, 50 percent of firms polled reported 50 percent fewer projects compared to their expectations entering the month. Eighty-three percent of firms anticipated a decline in revenue for the month—that figure jumps to 94 percent when considering revenue declines in April. The survey also found major shifts in staffing operations with 48 percent reporting—as of March 23—that all employees entire, or almost all employees, were working remotely. Thirty-one percent of firms reported that only some staff had gone into remote work mode. Fifteen percent reported that some staff members were unable to work at all. The AIA is providing a wide range of resources and helpful information to its members during the coronavirus pandemic across a range of areas. In addition to the operations-minded Architect’s Guide to Business Continuity, one notable resource headed by a special AIA task force is a Preparedness Assessment Tool meant to be used to evaluate potential alternative care sites for the treatment and isolation of COVID-19 patients. A collaborative database and complementary COVID19 ArchMap was launched so that architects, designers, engineers, and others can more easily share and compare best practices when establishing alternative care sites. Every Friday, AN’s own Coronavirus Column, penned by managing editor Jack Balderrama Morley, addresses a range of topics on how the pandemic is impacting both the profession of architecture and the built environment as a whole.
For the duration of the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, AN will use this column to keep our readers up to date on how the pandemic is affecting architecture and related industries. This weekly article is meant to digest the latest major developments in the crisis and synthesize broader patterns and what they could mean for architecture in the United States. It’s now been over one week since the first state in the U.S., California, enforced a shelter in place order, disrupting the working lives of millions of Americans. The pandemic’s impact on architecture still isn’t totally clear; some construction sites are closed, financial markets are fluctuating, and designers are working from home, but whether or not the country is headed toward a long-term recession or whether it will bounce back once the acute period of the crisis passes is an open question. I spoke with Jonathan Moody, CEO of Ohio-based Moody Nolan, about how the pandemic is affecting his business and the industry more broadly. “We’re hoping for the best but planning for the worst,” Moody said. Lessons from 2008’s Great Recession are coming in handy, he said, particularly lessons about the value of diversifying project types and being aware that different sectors of the industry will fare differently. Education projects may be hampered by schools suddenly without students (the pandemic has spurred the San Francisco Art Institute to close permanently), while multifamily housing may see boosts from slashed interest rates. He also suggested that because construction timelines on large institutional projects are so long, a few weeks of interruption would pass relatively quickly and wouldn’t require firms to cut staffing. The past few weeks have brought a jarring amount of change. Multiple architecture events have been postponed or canceled. The AIA has indefinitely postponed its annual conference, originally scheduled for mid-May in Los Angeles; Milan’s Salone del Mobile moved from April to June, before being canceled and moved to 2021; New York Design Week events have been pushed to October from May; and the Venice Architecture Biennale, also originally planned for May, will now open in August. Cultural institutions have started to feel the squeeze as they close or attendance plummets. Of course, there is also the human toll of the pandemic, visible in the death of Italian architect, planner, editor, and curator Vittorio Gregotti, who died of complications related to COVID-19 infection at the age of 92, and the death of theorist and the director emeritus of Graduate Urban Design Program of the City College of New York, Michael Sorkin. The profession’s day-to-day operations, for the most part, continue to go on, albeit in modified forms. Shelter in place orders mean that in architecture offices in hubs like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, employees are working from home and teleconferencing their way through the day (although WeWork refuses to close), but those same restrictions haven’t affected construction sites in the same way. Tradespeople continue to show up to sites across most of the country, even in places where office workers are staying home, although that is slowly changing. Construction Dive published an interactive map to keep track of construction-site closures across the country, which began in Boston and have slowly spread elsewhere. Some manufacturers have had to temporarily close factories because of shelter in place rules—Michigan’s many furniture producers had to pause work after that state’s social distancing order took effect on Tuesday—and some products from China and Italy are now less readily available. Moody said that, so far, material and product supply chain delays had caused only a few minor hiccups to schedule, but had encouraged the company to think more about the necessity of items coming from halfway around the world. “Some of these products look really nice, but are they essential?” he said. Given that occupancy permits may be delayed because of a missing lightbulb from China, shipments of which may be delayed because of the pandemic, “we have to be a little more thoughtful about where [products] are coming from.” Memories of these supply chain disruptions may drive designers to source products and materials more locally even after the pandemic recedes. The crisis may also spur changes in how the broader public thinks about land use. Outdoor spaces are getting new attention. Inga Saffron wrote in The Philadelphia Inquirer about how parks have become overcrowded refuges for cooped-up urbanites, and New York City is starting to close a couple of major streets in all of its boroughs to open up more space for exercise and recreation as vehicle traffic plummets. Shelter in place orders are also shining a light on the fact that many city dwellers don’t have a safe shelter to go to, and protesters in Southern California have occupied vacant homes to find housing that the government has not been able to provide. The explosion of cases is forcing cities to get nimble: New York is scrambling to convert spaces like the Javits Center to temporary treatment centers as the city runs out of hospital beds. Curbed wrote about how, like in past pandemics that have shaped the design of cities like New York, COVID-19 may be an inflection point in how urbanists plan our metropolises. The crisis could also spur changes to construction technology, encouraging contractors to adopt tools that could decrease the number of people on-site, like site-monitoring drones or robotic delivery. Moody said that his firm’s move toward state-of-the-art teleconferencing techniques a few months ago now seems prescient and is helping the company weather the crisis. Similar forward-thinking about construction sites might be what gets the industry through this or coming crises. While it’s easy to feel bogged down by the daily onslaught of news, Moody stressed the importance of looking ahead. “We do know that this won’t last forever,” he said, “and the things that we’ve been working on will need to continue when ready.” In the meantime, he is seeing some upsides to the interruptions to normal work routines. “[The disruptions are] forcing us to really question what is essential and teaching us what is important. We’ve seen our staff and clients be more decisive and thoughtful about how to best leverage expertise, maximize value, and treat people the right way. We’re seeing our humanity on display, and we’re not ashamed to show that we care for one another.” And while you are stuck inside, there are some virtual ways to get out of the house and explore. Google has compiled over 500 virtual tours of museums from around the world; staff at the Museum of Modern Art have put together a list of movies and video art to stream; filmmaker Gary Hustwit’s design movies, like Helvetica and Urbanized, are available for free streaming; and schools including the University of Southern California are streaming their spring events online. I also recommend this history of the N95 mask if you’re looking for a good long read. Finally, if you’re able to help and are looking for opportunities, check out Invisible Hands, an organization pairing people who can’t leave their homes with others who can deliver their groceries or run errands. Be well!
We do not need more vivid reminders that extreme weather events have the potential to cause appalling loss of life and tremendous property damage. The deadly fires that burned through California in November 2018 followed hard on the heels of a series of hurricanes and floods that wreaked terrible human and economic damage from New York to Houston and Puerto Rico. We are becoming increasingly confident that these extreme events are caused by climate change or, at any rate, that climate change makes them significantly more likely. Recently, the Fourth National Climate Assessment warned that climate change will cost the United States economy hundreds of billions of dollars annually by the end of the century. Increasingly, stakeholders in the construction process are recognizing that buildings need to be designed to withstand the climate conditions of tomorrow as well as today. Naturally, this leads to the question of whether there will be a legal liability when design professionals fail to anticipate the conditions brought about by climate change. There are several avenues by which a design professional might be held liable for failure to adapt to climate change. This article focuses on torts and tort-like duties, which represent a significant risk for design professionals. There are other sources of liability, though. Contracts, statutes, and regulations may all impose particular requirements on architects and engineers. Representations that a project complies with certain standards might also generate litigation. For example, in the wake of the recent California wildfires, the state’s largest utility company was sued by shareholders alleging that it was liable to its shareholders for failing to prevent the fires. Tort law is the body of law that governs our duties to others and the damages that may be due if those duties are violated. It is tort law that generally governs lawsuits over medical malpractice, for example, the injured party claims that they should be compensated because the medical professional’s actions fell below an acceptable standard of care and caused their injury. Under tort law, the design professional owes a duty toward those who could foreseeably be impacted by his or her actions—potentially extending beyond those to whom design professional have contractual duties (such as project owners) to include others, such as users or neighbors. Generally, the duty extends only to those who suffer physical injury to person or property—a tenant whose possessions are damaged by floodwater might have a claim against the design professional; the store across the road that loses business due to a building closure very likely does not.
Tort suits alleging liability for failure to adapt to climate change are unusual, but there are signs that they may be becoming more commonplace.Tort suits alleging liability for failure to adapt to climate change are unusual, but there are signs that they may be becoming more commonplace. An Illinois insurer recently filed (and then dropped) lawsuits alleging that various state municipalities were responsible for payouts because their stormwater management plans did not anticipate increased rainfall that caused flooding. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, plaintiffs argued, with some success, that it was foreseeable to the US Army Corps of Engineers that a navigation channel would change the local microclimate in ways that exacerbated hurricane damage (St. Bernard Par. Gov't v. United States, 121 Fed. Cl. 687, 721 (2015), rev'd on other grounds, 887 F.3d 1354 (Fed. Cir. 2018), petition for cert. filed, No. 18-359 (Sept. 9, 2018). Tort-like duties may arise in other contexts. Contracts might impose tort-like duties upon design professionals. For example, an architect whose contract specifies a useful life for a building might have a duty to anticipate the effects of climate change during that timeframe. Similarly, statutes can impose tort-like duties and may even be enforceable by private plaintiffs—a not-for-profit was recently found to have the standing to sue an oil company over allegations that its vulnerability to flooding made it incompatible with “good engineering practices” under the Clean Water Act. So, what is the standard of care? Simply put, design professionals have a duty to exercise the care of a reasonable practitioner in the location. Unfortunately, complying with this simple standard can be tricky, and the door is often open for someone to argue after a problem develops that the architect or engineer did not exercise the required level of care. The best way to minimize the chances of that door being opened is to pay careful attention to local best practices.
Compliance with local codes does not insulate the design professionals from liability if their peers are building to a higher standard.Building codes are one potential pitfall. While failure to comply with local building codes can lead to a finding of a per se (i.e., automatic) violation of the design professional’s duty, compliance with local codes does not insulate the design professionals from liability if their peers are building to a higher standard. Design professionals would be well-advised to be aware when local codes are outdated or backward-looking. For example, most states’ building codes do not account for sea-level rise. Similarly, relying on locally available climate data or projections may not be enough to protect the design professional from liability. Today, an architect in New York would have access to well-founded floodplain maps that take into account the potential impacts of climate change. However, this was not always the case. When Hurricane Sandy struck in 2012, many communities’ FEMA maps dated back to 1983. In this situation, it would be more difficult for a design professional to claim that reliance on official floodplain data was reasonable. And this is a significant problem—a 2017 government audit found that 58 percent of FEMA floodplain maps nationally were out-of-date. Further, although New York City benefits from an additional set of FEMA-drawn maps that anticipate the impact of rising sea levels, this is not the case nationally, meaning that even a brand-new floodplain map represents the chance of being hit with a flood in the last century rather than the next one. Practitioners should also be aware of codes governing public development. Future plaintiffs could argue that they are admissible to attack or to buttress expert opinions on the prevailing standard of care for private development. Our practitioner in New York should be aware of the city’s new Climate Resiliency Design Guidelines, which identify climate change risks and appropriate resiliency interventions for city projects—such as raising machinery when building in a potential floodplain. New York is not alone—various other state and local bodies, such as Boston, have developed or are developing similar standards. The Illinois lawsuits discussed above relied, in part, on rainfall predictions in the Chicago Climate Action Plan. Similarly, plaintiffs may argue that various nonbinding standards show prevailing practice. Industry bodies such as the American Society of Civil Engineers are attempting to develop such standards, and the Canadian Engineering Qualifications Board has published standards for engineers adapting to climate change. There is also the risk—as some design professionals have experienced with LEED certification—that undertaking to comply with otherwise nonbinding standards could create legal obligations. Our climate is changing rapidly. Design professionals already have plenty of incentives to make sure that our buildings and infrastructure are ready. A further incentive is that it reduces the risk of tort liability. Larry Dany is a partner at Eversheds Sutherland (US) LLP where he leads the Construction Industry Practice Group in New York City. He helps clients across the construction industry resolve a wide variety of complex business and legal challenges through planning, contract negotiation and drafting, dispute avoidance, claim management, arbitration, and litigation from inception through jury trial in state and federal courts across the country. Nicholas Boyd is an associate at Eversheds Sutherland (US) LLP. He advises corporations, financial services companies, and state agencies on complex business and civil litigation matters. His practice has a particular emphasis on antitrust disputes, class actions and construction lawsuits.
Architecture is notoriously known as one of the less lucrative professional fields in the United States, especially for young practitioners. But according to a new report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, where you live and work as an architect can majorly affect your annual income now and in the future. Forbes recently reported on the agency’s updated Occupational and Employment Statistics data, which reveal where architects can earn top salaries. For fully-licensed architects working full-time in the field as of May 2017, these are the average incomes found within the top 5 states: New York: $109,520 Massachusettes: $103,920 Texas: $99,580 Arizona: $95,220 California: $95,060 Alaska, of all places, provides the sixth-highest average salary to practitioners, followed by Alabama, New Hampshire, West Virginia, and Minnesota. Forbes noted that if the District of Columbia were included as a state, it would rank third. Per the Occupational and Employment Statistics data, the 2017 mean annual wage for Utah, the worst state to practice architecture in terms of earnings, was $67,520. Arkansas, Maine, Idaho, and Vermont trail behind as well, offering average salaries that, when calculated altogether, hover at $70,725. In thinking about this, it’s important to consider just how many architects work in the country. According to the report, there are an estimated 103,100 architects employed in U.S. firms. California boasts the most architects with 13,880. New York has about 12,740. From there the stats drop dramatically with Texas employing 8,730, as Illinois and Florida employing 5,140 and 4,490 respectively. While these stats offer huge insights into geographical demographics, they do not break down top earnings by ethnicity, race, gender, or age. It’s no secret that even in the highest-ranking state on this list, New York, junior architects and interns—or up-and-coming designers usually under the age of 30—receive significantly less money until they earn their licensure. Even then, in some cases, those newly-minted architects aren’t given promotions or raises. It depends on the ethics and goals of firms in which they work. For women and minority architects, the reality can be just as harsh, no matter the level. Kim Dowdell, the new president of the National Organization for Minority Architects (NOMA), recently told AN that the wealth gap in the U.S. trickles so far down that young minority students are less and less likely to pursue the profession due to the cost of an architectural education. “Many of my colleagues have really high levels of student debt coupled with comparatively low professional salaries (consider doctors and lawyers) and limited flexibility and financial freedom,” she said. “How can we as an organization motivate or incentivize people to pursue architecture knowing that compensation is a challenge and the student loan debt is higher than ever?”
Pay equity is arguably one of the biggest issues in the industry today. In February, The Architects’ Journal released its 2019 report on the U.K.'s gender pay gap, which unveils all documented salaries at firms that employ 250 or more people. Legally, these large-size practices must publicly reveal their gender pay gap in an effort to spread awareness on the issue. According to the article, Foster + Partners, which employs 1,061 people, includes 36 percent female architects who earn a median pay that’s 6.9 percent lower than their male counterparts. Zaha Hadid Architects has nearly the same amount of women on staff as Foster’s office, but the median pay gap is 21 percent. Arup, the global engineering and design firm, pays its female employees 16.9 percent less. Here in the U.S., where it's not a requirement to disclose firm-wide salaries, people are beginning to think more seriously about how gaps in gender, race, and pay equity may affect the internal culture of a firm and the subsequent projects produced its employees. Last summer, Jeanne Gang revealed she had closed the pay gap at Studio Gang, becoming the first firm in the country to do so. As Gang pointed out in her Fast Company article, the pay gap is one of architecture's greatest injustices and diversity in design isn’t just about filling a quota with different faces of different colors in a single office. It’s about recognizing the value that architects of all backgrounds bring to the table, and compensating them appropriately. Like any profession, the dollar amounts for an architect's salary will differ from state to state, but the respect for the mind and skills of a designer, no matter their race, gender, or language, should be the same across the board. That, according to Gang, will truly allow creativity to flourish.
Architecture firms @ZHA_News and @Hawkins_Brown have become the latest practices to report their gender pay gaps – with both failing to improve on their figures from last year. #equalpayday #genderpaygap https://t.co/JANJG9KVPY— AIA Advocacy (@AIA_Advocacy) April 2, 2019