Spokane Journal of Business

Architecture billings move up steadily

Separate analysis finds intern hirings, general optimism also climbing

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A market indicator used by the American Institute of Architects is reflecting a steady upturn in design activity, the organization says.

Meanwhile, a study sponsored jointly by the AIA and another organization revealed a steady rise in employment for intern architects, along with a general sense of optimism about future employment prospects in the architecture profession.

The market indicator that the AIA uses, called the architecture billings index, is touted by the organization as a leading economic indicator of construction activity. It reflects the roughly nine- to 12-month lag time between architecture billings and construction spending.

The AIA reported that the March index score was 51.9, down from a mark of 54.9 in February. The score reflects an increase in demand for design services, and any score above 50 indicates an increase in billings. A separate new products inquiry index tracked by the organization stood at 60.1, down from 64.8 the previous month but still strong.

"Business conditions in the construction industry have generally been improving over the last several months," says Kermit Baker, AIA's chief economist. "But as we have continued to report, the recovery has been uneven across the major construction sectors so it's not a big surprise that there was some easing in the pace of growth in March compared to previous months."

The Northeast region had the highest architecture billings index in March, at 54.6, followed by the Midwest, at 53.9; the South, at 53.6; and the West, at 51.9. Among the various market sectors, multifamily residential was strongest, at 56.9, followed by commercial / industrial, at 53.5; mixed practice, at 53.3; and institutional, at 50.6.

The regional and sector categories are calculated as a 3-month moving average, whereas the index and inquiries are monthly numbers.

The billings index is produced by the AIA Economics & Market Research Group and is derived from a monthly "work-on-the-boards" survey that is sent to a panel of AIA member-owned firms. Participants are asked 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.

Internship and career survey

The Internship and Career Survey conducted separately by the AIA and the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) found that conditions are improving for the profession, which was hit hard by the recession.

Seventy-eight percent of respondents reported being employed in professional architecture work, up eight percentage points from 2010. Meanwhile, only 6 percent of respondents reported they are unemployed, an 11 percentage point decrease from two years ago.

Also, 70 percent of respondents said that they would remain in the architecture profession after having been laid off.

Sixty-two percent of interns indicate it's taking three to five years to complete the organization's intern development program, and 53 percent of interns said they were able complete all 17 IDP experience-related requirements at one firm.

The Intern Development Program (IDP) structures the multiyear transition from architecture student to licensed professional. The National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) sets the program's criteria and monitors it across the country.

The Rickinson Group, an independent third-party marketing research supplier, conducted the survey and garnered more than 10,000 responses.

Founded in 1857, the AIA says it advocates for public policies that promote economic vitality and public well-being. It has nearly 300 state and local chapters

The National Council of Architectural Registration Boards' membership is made up of the architectural registration boards of all 50 states as well as those of the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. NCARB assists its member registration boards in carrying out their duties and provides a certification program for individual architects.

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