Slump in Demand for U.S. Commercial Architects May Be Near End, Group Says

A leading indicator for U.S. commercial property construction showed signs of improvement in April, indicating a rebound in building may be near, the American Institute of Architects said.

The Architecture Billings Index climbed to 48.5 from 46.1 in March, the third straight monthly increase, the Washington- based group said today. While any score of less than 50 indicates a drop in demand from the previous month, April’s decline was the smallest since January 2008.

“It appears that the design and construction industry may be nearing an actual recovery phase,” Kermit Baker, the group’s chief economist, said in a statement. “The economic landscape is improving.”

The index is an indicator of future building of offices, warehouses, apartments and retail properties. There is typically a lag of about nine to 12 months between the time architects bill clients and when developers start spending on construction, according to the AIA.

Overall construction spending in the U.S. increased 0.2 percent in March, fueled by federal stimulus spending on power plants, hospitals and transportation projects, the Commerce Department said May 3. Private construction spending for non- residential projects fell 0.7 percent in March from the previous month and 26 percent from a year earlier.

Commercial Property Values

The Moody’s/REAL Commercial Property Price Index fell 0.5 percent from February, the second straight monthly decline, Moody’s said today in a report. Prices slid 25 percent from a year earlier and are down 42 percent from the peak reached in October 2007.

RNL, a Denver-based company that provides architectural work for mixed-use projects in the western U.S. and overseas, has added five employees over the past three months. It trimmed its workforce to about 150 from 250 during the past two years, said Richard von Luhrte, the firm’s president.

Foreign investors, public-private partnerships and landlords seeking to renovate distressed properties are driving von Luhrte’s business, he said in an interview.

“We’ve seen the bottom and we’re stable,” he said. “Obviously the last year has been challenging, but there are some opportunities out there.”

The Northeast was the strongest of the four regions measured by the American Institute of Architects index, registering 51 and showing growth in demand for commercial architects. It was followed by the Midwest at 49.2, the South at 46.5, and the West at 44.7.

The Architecture Billings Index is based on a survey of firms owned by AIA members. Participants are asked each month whether their billings increased, decreased or stayed the same.

To contact the reporter on this story: Prashant Gopal in New York at pgopal2@bloomberg.net.

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