Posts tagged with "The Economy":

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Surveying the Landscape Landscape

(Courtesy Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates) Good news for landscape designers, and really for everyone.  According to the Business Quarterly survey conducted by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), the landscape profession showed improvements in key metrics which indicate the industry's economic state of affairs. Hiring, billable hours, and new business inquiries all increased in the first quarter of 2012, showing marked improvement over the last quarter of 2011.  FQ 2012 saw 71.3 percent of firms reporting stable or improved billable hours, and 76.2 percent reported stable or improved inquiries for new work.  It's not just good news for our parks and for our campuses, but it's also good news for the economy overall.
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Billings Stays Positive for Fifth Consecutive Month

The Architecture Billings Index (ABI) has registered promising gains since late last fall, and, according to the AIA's latest report on March billings, the ABI continues to find its footing in positive territory—but just barely. The overall March score was 50.4, indicating slight growth in demand for services (any score above 50 reflects increase in billings) but less growth than the previous month (the ABI was 51.0 in February). Still, Kermit Baker, the AIA's chief economist, was hopeful. "We are starting to hear more about improving conditions in the marketplace, with a greater sense of optimism that there will be greater demand for design services,” Baker said in a statement, in which he also made an effort to manage expectations, noting that there was not progress across-the-board.  "There are still a number of architecture firms struggling, so progress is likely to be measured in inches rather than miles for the next few months.” Indeed, the new projects inquiry index for March was 56.6, significantly down from February's 63.4, and regional scores, which are three-month moving averages, remained mostly steady: the Midwest registered 54.1 (down from 56.0 in February); the Northeast saw the most improvement with its score of 53.9 (51.0 in February); the South averaged 50.1 (51.3 in February); while the West continued to flat-line in negative territory, remaining at 46.6. Commercial/industrial billings charged ahead, registering 56.0 in March (up from 55.1), but unfortunately no other sector followed this lead: residential dropped to 51.9 from 53.3;  institutional saw a decline, slipping to 47.7 from 50.3; and mixed practice continued to hover below 50, registering 47.2 after February's 46.3.
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Holcim Awards for Sustainable Construction 2012

The Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction in Zurich, Switzerland has announced the winners of its 2012 Global Holcim Awards and the Holcim Innovation Prizes. Regional prize winners (15 for Global Awards and 53 for Innovation Prizes) were examined, and from them 3 Global Awards and 3 Innovation Prizes were handed out to projects that address environmental performance, social responsibility, and economic efficiency. Each of the winning projects are innovative, future-oriented, and usually have a social or cultural component as a key part of their program.  This year's jury for the Global Awards was headed by TEN Arquitectos' Enrique Norton and included critic Aaron Betsky and architect Mario Botta. The Innovation Prize Jury was led by architect Harry Gugger and included economists and engineers. Global Holcim Awards 2012 Gold Secondary school with passive ventilation system, Diébédo Francis Kéré, Kéré Architecture Gando, Burkina Faso Silver Urban remediation and civic infrastructure hub, Alfredo Brillembourg and Hubert Klumpner, Urban Think Tank São Paulo, Brazil Bronze Urban renewal and swimming-pool precinct, Tim Edler, realities united, Jan Edler, realities united, Denise Dih, DODK Holcim Innovation Awards 2012 1st Prize High-efficiency concrete formwork technology, Matthias Kohler, Gramazio & Kohler, Architektur und Digitale Fabrikation – ETH Zurich, Fabio Gramazio, Silvan Oesterle and Axel Vansteenkiste, Gramazio & Kohler, Architektur und Digitale Fabrikation – ETH Zurich Zurich, Switzerland 2nd Prize Low-cost apartments incorporating smart materials, Frank Barkow, Barkow Leibinger Architects, Prof. Regine Leibinger, Barkow Leibinger Architects and Technische Universität Berlin, Institut für Architektur, Fachgebiet Baukonstruktion und Entwerfen, Prof. Dr. sc. techn. Mike Schlaich, Technische Universität Berlin,Institut für Bauingenieurwesen, Fachgebiet Entwerfen und Konstruieren - Massivbau, Germany; Matthias, Schuler, TRANSSOLAR Energietechnik Hamburg, Germany 3rd Prize Efficient fabrication system for geometrically complex building elements, Povilas Cepaitis, AA School of Architecture, Luis Enrique, Diego Ordoñez and Carlos Piles, AA School of Architecture London, UK Click on a thumbnail to launch the slideshow. All images courtesy Holcim Foundation. A complete list of finalists can be seen here.
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Upward March: Billings Index Regains Positive Territory

The Architecture Billings Index is up, hitting 52.0 in November, the first positive ground since touching 51 in August (anything over 50 indicates an increase in billings). The roller-coaster volatility of the past few months—we held our breath and skipped reporting September’s down and October’s up—suggests cautious optimism that the index which tracks the approximate nine-month lag time between architecture billings and construction spending is finally in a solid swing upwards. Kermit Baker, AIA chief economist, who also spent the fall refusing to jinx the index with overpromises, said in a statement: “Hopefully, this uptick in billings is a sign that a recovery phase is in the works. However, given the volatility that we’ve seen nationally and internationally recently, we’ll need to see several more months of positive readings before we’ll have much confidence that the U.S. construction recession is ending.” The regional highlights were a mix: with only the South (54.4) and the Midwest (50.9) in the black. Optimism is reflected in a big leap however in inquiries up to 65.0 from last month’s reading of 57.3. It looks like 2012 may well be the year to breathe again.
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In Chicago, Small and Steady May Win the Race

While a number of new rental towers have been announced in recent months, Crain's has an informative article about a number of Chicago condominium developers who are beginning to build again, albeit at a very small scale and in tightly phased sequences. Even for projects as small as 14 units, banks are demanding projects be split into two phases, six units first, followed by eight in a second building. Some developers are also willing to accept lower offers from buyers for higher down payments up front. The thinking reflects new stricter lending standards and continuing economic uncertainty. But with Chicago's condo market still over-saturated and the foreclosure crisis just beginning to wane, it also reflects a much needed correction from previous patterns of over building and over lending. And, pardon me Mr. Burnham, but isn't incremental city-making and infill development often the best approach?    
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High Art: Kim Beck’s The Sky Is the Limit/NYC

Just after 4:00p.m. Sunday afternoon, cryptic messages visible for miles around Manhattan were written in the sky, spelling out, among other things, "Last Chance." Out of context to millions in the streets below, the messages were slightly unnerving and deliberately vague. Curious speculation as each giant letter was traced into the sky led many to wonder what the message actually meant: An ad? A terrorist's warning? A persistent marriage proposal? It turns out the display was part of an art project by Kim Beck called The Sky Is the Limit/NYC and sponsored by the Friends of the High Line. The Pittsburgh-based artist and professor, already familiar to High Line fans for her recent empty-billboard-inspired Space Available project, had a series of messages drawn straight from advertising billboards written in an otherwise cloud-free sky. Messages included "Everything Must Go," "All Sales Final," and "Space Available." Beck referenced The Wizard of Oz's ominous sky-written "Surrender Dorothy" as a mirror to our own unease over the economy. She also noted the opportunity for positive change in creating community: "When, in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, a crowd gathers to piece together skywriting, the spectacle unites disparate groups, as they cluster together to find meaning in the urban landscape. I am looking for folks to become a part of it by taking pictures." A common sight around New York, certainly, was the skyward-staring cluster of pedestrians. While The Sky Is The Limit/NYC is undeniably a sobering commentary on the current state of America's economy, Beck also wanted to ensure a poetic quality to the display's open-ended presentation and fleeting quality of fading smoke. While Beck began with the likes of "Last Chance," the project ended on a brighter note with "Now Open."
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August Billings Index Bounces Back

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.”
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Billings> Index Tumbles to Lowest Point in 6 Months

In what can only be described as an about face, the Architecture Billings Index (ABI) took a bit of a tumble into negative territory last month. The April ABI fell to 47.6 from 50.6, beating even October’s low of 48.7. At the end of 2010, words like “rebound” were cautiously bandied about, but for the past three months the ABI skated along the edge of positive territory hovering around 50. Now with numbers the lowest they’ve been for the last six months AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker began to analyze reasons why. “We get a lot of comments on the panel that we tried to get a sense of what’s going on and we got some reasons of what could be with us for while,” said Baker. He noted that construction projects funded under the federal stimulus completed their design work and needed credit to move forward. “A lot of the public stimulus has run its course, and the theory was that the private sector would pick up where the stimulus ran out,” said Baker. But 60 percent of the panelists responded that delayed financing has them sitting on at least one incomplete project. “Some of them are probably dead,” Baker said of the projects. In addition to the credit crunch, severe weather also depressed figures. The storms that whipped through parts of the South last month had an effect and analysts are keeping an eye on the rising waters of the Mississippi. Indeed, as a region the South dipped further down from 49.7 in March to 48.3 in April. The Midwest kept its head above water at 51.1, but this was less than March’s 53.5 gain. The Northeast remained steady at 51.2 from March’s 51.4. Unfortunately, the West took their all-too-familiar backseat. After finally pulling into positive territory at 50.6 in March; they’ve stumbled back to 47.7. The sector breakdown saw residential rise from 50.8 to 53.9, commercial/industrial fell from 54.7 to 49.9, institutional fell further from 48.0 to 45.9, and mixed practice slipped from 49.8 to 45.2. Project inquiries for the month were at 55.0. Baker pointed out that the overall trend of the last five months was growth, but with three months having numbers hovering around 50 it’s not surprising when it dips. “We don’t get too excited about one month on the upside or one month on the downside,” he said. Still, while there’s not much room for cheer, Baker noted that there is room for hope. “There’s some residual optimism of two quarters of positive numbers,” he said, noting that downward numbers could be a blip. “We’ll see if that upward trend is something that could be sustained.”
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Signs of Life for Architecture?

According to Crain's New York, the city's five biggest firms began rehiring last year. Kohn, Pederson Fox, Perkins Eastman, Gensler, HOK, and SOM all began staffing-up, though all five firms pointed to international work as driving much of the growth. “New York started coming out of the recession earlier than the rest of the country, and business is improving, but it's still uneven,” Bradford Perkins, chairman and chief executive of Perkins Eastman, told the business journal. Perkins Eastman added around 30 architects last year. Nationally, billings have been back in positive territory for the last few months, though results vary substantially by region. And today the AP reported that new home construction is beginning to bounce back. Are you feeling a rebound?
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Billings Dips But Stays in Positive Territory

The Architecture Billing Index (ABI) dropped nearly four points in January, but just managed to stay in positive territory with a score of an even 50 (any score below 50 indicates shrinking billings). The new projects enquiry index also fell significantly from 61.6 in December to 56.5 in January, but remained comfortably in positive territory. Even with the fall in the indexes, the AIA believes the overall trend is stable with mild growth. "We've been taking a cautiously optimistic approach for the last several months and there is no reason at this point to change that outlook," said AIA chief economist Kermit Baker in a statement. Significant regional differences persist. The Midwest led in January with a score of 56.4, the South picked up with an index of 51.3, and the Northeast stayed in positive territory at 50.4. The West continued to drag down the overall index with a score of 47.3. The differences were smaller across sectors. Commercial industrial billings scored 54.6, multi-family residential came in at 53.7, and institutional worked billings totaled 51.3. The mixed-practice index was lowest at 48.7.
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Architecture Publishers Restructure In Soft Economy UPDATED

While signs of economic recovery are beginning to show for architects, design publishers continue to struggle to adjust to the changing media landscape and the soft economy. The parent companies of The Architect's Newspaper's two major competitors, Architectural Record's McGraw-Hill and Architect's Hanley Wood, both announced major restructurings this week. According to Folio,  McGraw-Hill is folding New York Construction, Midwest Construction, and its other regional titles into Engineering News-Record and turning ENR into a regional publication while eliminating up to 2,000 jobs across the company. At Record, this also meant letting go of some senior editorial staff, AN learned yesterday. Meanwhile, Hanley Wood's president, Peter Goldstone, has been let go and his position has been eliminated, Folio also reported. UPDATE: A spokesperson for McGraw-Hill wrote to dispute that the company is eliminating 2,000 jobs. While she declined to give a number, she said that the 2,000 figure is, "completely inaccurate." She also clarified that ENR will "continue to be a national publication, but now it also has regional supplements."
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Lagrange out to Pasture?

Crain's reports that prominent Chicago architect Lucien Lagrange is throwing in the towel at the barely ripe age of 69. Not only his he closing up shop--at an as yet undisclosed date--he's filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. “Retiring, (there would be) a lot of liabilities are on my back. I can’t just walk away,” Lagrange told Crain's. “Chapter 11 gives you a chance to plan ahead, organize and close in a decent way.” While the AIA may be forcasting a brighter 2011, Lagrange, best known for designing high end condos, doesn't see the market bouncing back for another five years. While he might be in a gloomy mood now, my hunch is that Chapter 11 won't be the final chapter in his career.