Architects see signs of economic recovery

June 20, 1992|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Staff Writer

BOSTON -- Architects and construction companies in many regions of the country are showing signs of recovering from the recession, according to a national survey of design executives holding their annual convention here this weekend.

Slightly more than half of the architects polled said they thought therecession had "bottomed out" as it relates to their firms, the survey by American Institute of Architects found.

In addition, 44 percent of the 300 survey participants said business opportunities for design firms in their region had increased since Jan. 1. Thirty-one percent said opportunities remained the same, and 25 percent said opportunities had decreased.

"More and more of you are telling us that the pace is picking up, even if it's just a bit," James P. Cramer, the institute's executive vice president, said during opening ceremonies at the convention. "Over two-thirds of you are telling us the recession is bottoming out and billings are picking up" since Jan. 1, he said.

"While there is a glimmer of optimism in these reactions, I think it would be an overstatement to call it a turnaround," he said. "It's still a dismal situation."

Architects are a reliable bellwether of the construction industry, Mr. Cramer said, because they are hired to design buildings long before construction begins.

"Most measurements of building trends are based on construction contract awards and permits, which generally occur months after the design has begun," he said. "We believe this approach gives us the most timely information possible."

The state of the economy is "probably the most important thing" on the minds of the nearly 10,000 delegates at the convention, Mr. Cramer said.

He estimated that 12 percent to 15 percent of the nation's 85,000 registered architects are unemployed and that 6,000 to 8,000 have lost jobs in the past two years.

Maryland firms have felt the pinch, as shown by several rounds of layoffs at RTKL Associates and the closing in April of Baltimore's oldest firm, Edmunds & Hyde.

Work was up in health care and educational facilities, single-family housing, renovation and government buildings, according to the survey, conducted from May 15 to May 19. Areas of the country showing rebounds included the Midwest, Texas, and the Southwest.

Forty-two percent of the firms answering the survey from the South Atlantic region, which includes the states from Maryland to Florida, said business opportunities had increased since the beginning of the year. Forty-one percent said they had stayed the same, and 17 percent said they had decreased.

Sixty-three percent of the firms in the region said they had the same number of employees as they did at the beginning of the year, 14 percent said they had added employees, and 23 percent reported layoffs.

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