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Architecture Billings Growth Speeds Up
Greig O'Brien / ARCHITECT / September 18, 2013
Five years after the world economy melted down, the AIA’s Architecture Billings Index for August shows that growth might be here to stay.
Last weekend was the five-year anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, an event that kicked off the sinking of the world economy into recession and to the brink of worldwide depression. For the past week, media commentators have been remembering the harried months that followed, which seemed like the end of days at the time. (One good example is Neil Irwin’s walk down memory lane for the Washington Post.) But now, for many, the memory of those days has at least begun to fade, fear having been displaced by caution, which in turn is being displaced by cautious optimism—and even full-fledged optimism in some markets.
More proof of this cautious optimism can be found in August’s Architecture Billing Index, released today by the American Institute of Architects. With a national billings score of 53.8, up from July’s 52.7, it shows that architecture billings continue to grow at a steady rate, albeit sometimes ever-so-slightly shakily, as they have for nearly three years now.
It doesn’t seem so long ago since the bottom fell out. In January 2009, the index hit a nadir of 34.4, signaling massive contraction in the demand for architectural design services. Even the project inquiries index dipped below 50 for seven months (in March and May 2008, and from September 2008 to January 2009), which is something that had only been seen once before that point (in September 2001) and which we haven’t seen since. The next year and a half after the January 2009 lowpoint were followed by a steady, nerve-wracking slowing of the market’s rate of contraction. Then, we saw the first shaky and unpredictable green shoots, which began to appear at the end of 2010.
That feeling of uncertain, feeble, and precarious growth became so pervasive, however, that the renewed stability of the billings results for architecture has practically gone unnoticed. But growth has once again become the norm, not the exception. National billings have now grown for more than a year, except for one slip in April 2013 to 48.6. The inquiries index hasn’t experienced contraction since the dark days when we turned the calendar to 2009. Three of the nation’s regions have shown growth for more than a year now. (The only one that hasn’t, the Midwest, has been only slightly shakier, with eight of the past 12 months coming in above 50.) And three of the industry’s four sectors have shown growth for at least the past year. (The only one of those that hasn’t, the Commercial/Industrial sector, has shown growth for the past 11 months.)