Described as “crime scene photos,” stark images of Spain’s housing bubble landscapes depict a grim reality. But instead of a somber discourse on the evils of political corruption and real estate speculation, the Architectural League’s symposium this past Friday, The City That Never Was, looked forward and, as Iñaki Abalos aptly asked, wondered if we, “can turn shit into gold.”
Building on their research and design studios at the University of Pennsylvania, Chris Marcinkoski and Javier Arpa, the moderators, explored the future of urbanism through the lens of Spain’s economic crisis and its resulting desolate urban form. Framing the historical context of boom and bust cycles, they reveal that the Spanish situation is only unique in scale and intensity. It exists as part of a larger commodification of urbanism all over the world resulting in similar conditions in an ever simplified placeless urbanism.
The Architecture Billings Index showed renewed strength in January, with a jump to 54.2 from 51.2 in December (any score above 50 indicates positive growth). All four regions were in positive territory with the Midwest leading at 54.4, the long struggling West showing strength at 53.4, the South came in at 51.7, and the Northeast at 50.3. The Index posted the strongest gains since November 2007.
Heading into the holidays, the AIA has more good economic news to report: the Architectural Billings Index (ABI) has recorded a third straight month of growth. The October score was 52.8, up from September’s 51.6 (any score above 50 indicates a growth in billings). The uptick reflects improving conditions in the housing market and real estate more broadly. All four regions were in positive territory, with the South leading at 52.8, followed by the Northeast at 52.6, the West at 51.8, and the Midwest at 50.8.
The AIA has released its Architecture Billings Index (ABI) for September, and the news looks good. According to the organization, the ABI score went to 51.6, up from 50.2 in August (any score above 50 reflects an increase in billings). The spike marks the fastest increase in the demand for design services since 2010.
The AIA tied the upswing in billings to an increased demand for rental housing. “Going back to the third quarter of 2011, the multi-family residential sector has been the best performing segment of the construction field,” said AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker. “With high foreclosure levels in recent years, more stringent mortgage approvals and fewer people in the market to buy homes there has been a surge in demand for rental housing. The upturn in residential activity will hopefully spur more nonresidential construction.”
The AIA’s monthly Architecture Billings Index (ABI) for July came in with a disappointing 48.7 (any score below 50 indicates a decline in billings for design activity). The news was not all bad though. The ABI was up significantly from last month’s score of 45.9. “Even though architecture firm billings nationally were down again in July, the downturn moderated substantially,” said AIA Chief Economist, Kermit Baker. “As long as overall economic conditions continue to show improvement, modest declines should shift over to growth in design activity over the coming months.”
“It’s like déjà vu all over again,” AIA chief economist Kermit Baker said of the steep springtime drop reflected in May’s Architectural Billings Index (ABI). Baker was referring to the trend from 2011, when design activity took a substantial hit after an initially healthy first quarter. “But we don’t want to have a repeat of last year,” he added referring to the sluggish numbers that continued to shadow the profession through the fall. The new numbers were the worst since October and, Baker said, reflect trends in the larger economy.
For the past five months things were looking up for the Architecture Billings Index. Until now. Granted, the index was merely teetering on the positive side of the spectrum at 50.4 for March (any score above 50 reflects an increase), so it didn’t have far to drop into the negative territory of 48.4 for April. Despite the five-month positive stint, throughout the period AIA Chief Economist, Kermit Baker urged cautious optimism in what has clearly been a tepid recovery. In a statement released today, he said that the decline in demand for design services is not surprising considering continued volatility in the overall economy. “Favorable conditions during the winter months may have accelerated design billings, producing a pause in projects that have moved ahead faster than expected,” he said.
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).