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Five months of US growth ends with April fall

US architecture workloads fell last month, dampening hopes of a recovery.

The American Institute of Architects (AIA), which monitors fees invoiced by the profession, announced last week that its Architecture Billings Index fell from 50.4 in March to 48.4 in April. The drop below the 50 mark effectively means the sector is now contracting.

The unwelcome fall comes after five months of billings growth, which had sparked talk of a minor recovery in the battered built environment sector in the States. Construction spending in the US reached an 18-month high of $807 billion (£512 billion) in November and in February the AJ reported a surge of work in New York and California.

AIA chief economist Kermit Baker said: ‘Considering the continued volatility in the overall economy, this decline in demand for design services isn’t terribly surprising. Favourable conditions during the winter may have accelerated billings, producing a pause in projects that have moved ahead faster than expected.’

As always in the US, the picture varies regionally, with the North East and Mid West recording minor increases in billings, while the South and West posted falls.

Commercial and industrial projects were the place to look for work, with a sector index of 53.8 for the three months to April.

Mixed-use schemes at the other extreme had a reading of 45.0.

David Herd, Buro Happold’s regional director for the US West Coast, agreed that the findings were ‘not surprising’ and further stressed the ‘fragile and volatile nature of the US construction market and economy’.

‘Federal, state and city spending is still very constrained. International projects are highly competitive and the period of time from winning a project to commencement can be highly protracted,’ he said.

Speaking at last week’s AIA convention, Baker announced that, since the recession started in December 2007, about 60,000 jobs at American architecture companies had been lost, about 28 per cent of the country’s pre-recession architectural workforce.

Meanwhile, recent research by Georgetown University found that architecture graduates in the US had the greatest risk of not finding a job of all university leavers. Its report said the unemployment rate for recent architecture graduates was 13.9 per cent in the wake of the collapse of the country’s construction industry.

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