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Slump in Demand for U.S. Architects May Be Near End

Our company began to experienc a slight uptick in hiring during May to present.  This article by Prashant Gopal in Bloomberg Business seems to confirm what we are reporting:

May 19 (Bloomberg) — 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.

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Architects, Congress and the “S Corp.” tax hike

Very good article in THE HILL by George H. Miller, FAIA – 06/07/10 10:03 AM ET

When Congress returns this week, one of the first items on its agenda will be finding a way to pay for extending unemployment benefits to the millions of Americans who find themselves jobless even as the economy begins a slow and fitful recovery. The Senate hopes to begin work on the “tax extenders package” that was approved by the House of Representatives on May 28, just as lawmakers left for the Memorial Day Recess.

We sympathize with Congress as it looks for ways to pay for extending jobless benefits. Indeed, roughly 25 percent of my professional colleagues are unemployed – in some states the percentage is even higher – and would benefit from any extension, as well as from other provisions in the legislation, such as Build America Bonds. And yet, as world markets tremble from global debt anxiety, Congress is rightly pre-occupied with finding ways to fund the extension without adding to the ballooning deficit.

Bad decisions usually result when two such countervailing forces are at work. None is worse than the effort to help fund the extension by raising taxes on individuals and small businesses that form S Corporations. So-called S Corporations help to create jobs and economic growth by reinvesting hard-earned capital back into their enterprises. S-Corporation owners often pay themselves a salary, to which Social Security and Medicare taxes apply. But profits that are paid to the owner as a shareholder are not subject to payroll taxes. They will be for many S corporations, however, if this short-sighted provision passes and is signed into law by the President.

This type of tax hike comes at a time when many people – out of necessity due to layoffs and restructurings throughout the economy – are forming their own home-based consultancies, web design firms, landscaping enterprises and the like. If they structure themselves as an S Corporation – and many of them do – they would be caught up in this new tax just as they are planning to set up shop, hire staffers and buy the equipment they need to get started.

That is certainly the case in the architecture profession. We are struggling to find ways to restructure and resuscitate our careers and livelihoods after the collapse of the real estate market. Many of us operate as S Corporations, because it allows us the flexibility to compete in world markets and retain and attract the talent that has kept American architecture the envy of the world. We may be forced to lay off staff or stop hiring new staff to pay the new tax – even though this provision is in a “jobs” bill. The provision is particularly troubling in that it specifically calls out S corporations with three or fewer key employees.

We applaud Congress’s effort to find a way to extend unemployment benefits for individuals who need them. But as the economy begins to recover, now is the worst time to raise taxes on a sector that is a catalyst for job growth in the design and construction industry. After 27 consecutive months of contracting, the American Institute of Architects in May reported that architectural billings have trended upward for the third consecutive month. That’s an indication that new construction could be on the rise in nine to 12 months, which would create more jobs and advance our nation’s economic recovery.

Rather than hike taxes, Congress should enact legislation that generates revenue with little or no cost to the Treasury. One such bill is H.R. 5249, the Capital Access for Main Street Act of 2010, introduced by Reps. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) and Mike Coffman (R-CO). This legislation would change accounting rules for community banks with less than $10 billion in assets as they work with borrowers to renegotiate loan terms, avoid large sums of commercial foreclosures, and free up credit that can be used more constructively.

Unscrupulous businesses do use S corporation status to avoid paying their proper share of taxes and they should be caught and punished. But the Internal Revenue Service is already empowered to address that issue. This tax hike lumps together the good and the bad, penalizing thousands of honest small businesses that follow the rules. We strongly urge Congress not to support this inappropriate tax increase.

George H. Miller is president of the American Institute of Architects, based in Washington, D.C.

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Gehry Partners Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas

This is one of my favorite Gehry buildings.  What is your favorite?  Hat tip to The Architects Newspaper

THE ENTRANCE TO THE LOU RUVO CENTER USES GEHRY'S SIGNATURE STEEL FOLDS TO CREATE AN INVITING CANOPY.

Frank Gehry once vowed never to build in Las Vegas, a place where serious architecture is submerged in a tsunami of kitsch, or fatally compromised by commercial imperatives. Larry Ruvo, who made a fortune as Nevada’s chief liquor distributor, refused to take “no” for an answer. He has been a passionate supporter of Alzheimer’s research since the loss of his father, Lou, to that disease.

Having formed an alliance with a major medical institution, he wanted a building that would be a magnet. He persuaded Gehry that this was a worthy cause and gave him creative freedom to design a research facility linked to an events space that would play a supporting role by generating income from rentals. The Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health was inaugurated last Friday.

The center, while largely dedicated to research and treatment, also has an events space to help support its medical mission.

 Link to full article here.

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Send in the Clouds – MIT in bubbly bid for London Olympic Tower

Thanks to writer Julie V. Iovine and the folks at The Architects Newspaper, I came across this project.  It looks fantastic and I would love to see it built.  Although I admit I am not so sure I would ever reach the top to put my head in the “clouds”.  My fear of heights and intended airy and light feel of the structure might stand in my way. This of course assumes I ever travel to London.

A proposal spearheaded by MIT's Senseable City Lab envisions an inhabitable sculpture for London's 2012 Olympics.

All Photos Courtesy Raise the Cloud

In early November, British architects discovered with dismay that Mayor Boris Johnson of London was conducting a secret competition to select a designer for a $33 million beacon for the 2012 Olympics. Brushing aside the standard procurement process—which involves publishing a notice in The Official Journal of the European Communities—Johnson invited 30 firms to submit proposals for a prominent addition to the city’s skyline.

A Guggenheim-like spiral wrapped in cable netting will support the clouds, with much of the structure open to the public.

Called “the Cloud,” the structure starts with a slender spire that is ringed by a spiraling ramp, stabilized with a cable net, and sturdy enough for strollers and bicyclists to mount to a sky full of bubbly spheres. This upper aerie would host three types and sizes of spheres: The largest and most structural are Buckminster Fuller–type geodesic domes; next, cable-net bubbles would cluster around observation decks; and then, blurring the edge, bunches of hot-air-filled balloons create that head-in-the-clouds feeling.

The EFTE inflatables would be covered in a new type of distributed LED that is readable from any direction and could provide a constant stream of information, including game statistics, weather forecasts, traffic advisories, alien greetings, and presumably, advertisements.

Olympic visitors at play in "the Clouds."

Intended to stand 400 feet tall, the Cloud will barely have a footprint, sustainability-wise. Photovoltaic film, whose effect will be magnified by mirrors, is spread over the spheres. And while visitors can only ascend the one-kilometer ramp on foot or by bicycle, they can descend by means of a “regenerative lift” that uses the same braking system as a Prius to recoup electricity, as will water-wheels embedded in the column through rain collection.

The exact size of the Cloud remains to be determined. Taking a page from the grassroots innovations of the Obama campaign, the team has organized a structure that can expand or contract depending on donations. The density of the cloud cover—the number of spires and individual clouds, in fact—will depend on how many people sign on to contribute.

London Mayor Boris Johnson envisions a beacon for the Olympics, and mit's is only one of several proposals thought to be under consideration.

While the contenders—said to include Foreign Office Architecture—have yet to be named, one team is already spreading the word about their entry on Facebook. Carlo Ratti, architect and director of MIT’s SENSEable City Lab, joined forces with German engineer Joerg Schlaich, Arup, artist Tomas Saraceno, corporate sponsor Google UK, and others to create what Ratti described as “not a building for London but a symbol of global ownership.”

The Facebook page Raise the Cloud was launched on November 11 with 1,000 fans and counting, according to Ratti, who would like to see as many as three spires covered in clouds at the as-yet-unselected site. “We can build our Cloud with five million pounds or 50 million,” he said. “The flexibility of the structural system will allow us to tune the size of the Cloud to the level of funding that is reached.” Whether or not selected by Mayor Johnson to be the official 2012 Olympic Tower, the Cloud is certain to attract plenty of air time.

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Charles Gwathmey, Architect of the Modernist School, Is Dead at 71

As the owner of Consulting For Architects, I have had the opportunity and privilege to work with the architecture firm, Gwathmey Siegel from the mid nineties to present as a provider of staffing services.  Mr. Gwathmey’s passing is a loss for his family, friends, firm and the profession and I hope to bring together some of the things others have said about him recently in regards to his passing.

From the New York Times:

Charles Gwathmey, part of a generation of architects who put their own aesthetic stamp on the “high Modernist” style, died on August 3. He was known both for residential work — he built living spaces for Steven Spielberg, David Geffen and Jerry Seinfeld — and sometimes controversial public buildings.

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In the New Yorker Magazine architecture critic Paul Goldberger said:

Postscript: Charles Gwathmey

In 1965, Charles Gwathmey, three years out of the Yale School of Architecture, designed a house and studio for his parents, the artists Rosalie and Robert Gwathmey, on Bluff Road in Amagansett, on eastern Long Island. Gwathmey was twenty-eight, an age when most architects are toiling away in large corporate offices and hoping for the chance to renovate a friend’s kitchen. When Gwathmey’s project, a pair of crisp, sharply angled structures covered in cedar siding, was finished, a year later, it became one of the most influential houses of the decade: a composition of cubes, cylinders, and triangles, it was a study in inventive modernist geometries. It cost somewhere around thirty-five thousand dollars, and it inspired a generation of beach houses in the Hamptons and elsewhere.

Architectural careers generally develop slowly, which made Gwathmey’s particularly unusual, the architectural equivalent of the young writer who comes out of nowhere and produces a brilliant first novel. In some ways, Gwathmey was the architecture world’s Norman Mailer, with the same bravado, the same raw talent, and the same career-long anxiety about whether he could continue to equal his spectacular first performance. Over the years, Gwathmey’s work became more complex than the house and studio in Amagansett, and vastly more elaborate. The cabinetry in any Gwathmey kitchen was certain to cost several times as much as his parents’ entire house.

A few years after the house in Amagansett was finished, Gwathmey and his architectural partner since 1968, Robert Siegel, designed an apartment at the El Dorado, on Central Park West, for Faye Dunaway, and over time they became the architects of choice for clients in the entertainment industry who were sophisticated enough to want something other than an interior decorator’s French Provincial. The firm of Gwathmey Siegel designed modernist houses and apartments for David Geffen, Steven Spielberg, Jerry Seinfeld, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Ron Meyer, and Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy, not to mention grandiose modernist villas for Michael Dell, the computer maker, and Mitchell Rales, a Washington, D.C., industrialist, for whom Gwathmey also designed a private museum, Glenstone.

By the time the large villa that Gwathmey had designed in East Hampton for François de Menil, now owned by Larry Gagosian, was completed, in 1983, it was clear that Gwathmey had become not the avant-garde architect that his early success had promised but something closer to a modernist Stanford White or John Russell Pope. Gwathmey’s modernism, by then, had become not so different from what a Georgian manse was in the nineteen-twenties: a symbol of refinement and sophistication more than of cutting-edge sensibility. Maybe it didn’t matter: after all, his houses were impeccably designed and exquisitely crafted, and his clients were not just any rich people but ones who knew the difference between a Gwathmey house and someone else’s.

Still, Gwathmey hated to be thought conservative, and the unspoken theme of his career was the struggle between his desire to continue to make buildings that were new and different and his passion for a kind of classic modernism, which as time went on seemed ever more to be a part of history. He never copied anything literally, and he couldn’t bear to think of himself as one of those architects who replicate the past. He kept trying, over and over, to find new ways to rearrange the basic geometric shapes he loved so much—he was earnest, almost innocent, in his passion for pure architectural form—and his late work, if not dazzling in the way that his parents’ house was, had a striking richness to it. He tried new surfaces, he tried new materials, he tried new shapes, but there was always the same kind of sleek, crisp formality to his work. If there is such a thing as blunt intricacy, Gwathmey’s architecture has it.

He was at his best at small scale, which made him the opposite of almost every other major architect of our time. He did a few towers, none of which were great, and several institutional buildings, few of which equalled his best houses. (He was almost alone among first-class architects in making houses a central part of his practice, even when he had plenty of bigger, more lucrative projects.) Toward the end of his career, he poured his heart and soul into a non-residential commission he cherished, the restoration and expansion of the Art and Architecture Building at Yale, by his teacher Paul Rudolph. The Rudolph building is an impossibly difficult neo-Brutalist masterpiece from 1963, and Gwathmey made it look better than it has in forty years. His addition is smart and well planned on the inside, and too complex and overwrought on the outside. It tells you all you need to know about its architect, who couldn’t bring himself to sit quietly beside his mentor. Gwathmey paid loving homage to Rudolph in the restoration, and then he wanted to get into the ring with him. I don’t think he was trying to show his teacher up. He just worried about what it would look like if he didn’t assert himself. He never wanted anyone to think that he didn’t have the right stuff.

More from the New York Times:

While in his 20s Mr. Gwathmey became a sensation by building a house for his parents on the East End of Long Island. The house, completed in 1966, was consistently described as one of the most influential buildings of the modern era. Two years later he and Robert Siegel founded Gwathmey Siegel & Associates.

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Perhaps the firm’s best known work was its addition to Frank Lloyd Wright’s design of the Guggenheim Museum on the Upper East Side, the rectangular tower beside the building’s famous spiral.

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Mr. Gwathmey’s Astor Place condominium tower drew criticism from those who said it was insufficiently deferential to its surroundings.

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Mr. Gwathmey in 1976, outside of Whig Hall at Princeton University. His renovation of the building was known as one of his more daring projects.

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The Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens.

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Mr. Gwathmey created a proposal for the World Trade Center site, along with Richard Meier, Peter Eisenman and Steven Holl.

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Mr. Gwathmey in his apartment in Manhattan.

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Via New Yorker Magazine and NYT

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Aspen Ideas Fest 2009: Frank Gehry, as interviewed by Thomas Pritzker

It was clear that Frank Gehry is self-aware from the introductory biographic notes that Pritzker read: “Frank Gehry has been the subject of a Simpsons episode…” was how it began. Gehry is often dismissed as the worst offender among “starchitects” seeking iconic memorials to their own talents, ala Howard Roark. And maybe it’s that his advanced age has offered him some more perspective (Gehry is 80), but this interview made it clear that his well-known style was mostly accidental. Here are my observations from watching the session:

1. He came from very humble beginnings.

Gehry was driving a truck  at age 19 or 20, and taking some college classes as night. In one pottery class, he became friendly with the instructor, who invited Gehry to visit his home while it was under construction. Gehry was taken with the design and construction process he observed, so the professor recommended an architecture course, which the professor then paid for when Gehry couldn’t afford it.

2. Disney’s lawyers treated him pretty badly.

When Gehry was announced as being on the short list for the Disney Concert Hall, the family’s attorneys called a meeting with him too provide him with a list of things that he couldn’t do in the project. The meeting ended with the lead attorney declaring that he “would never let them put the Disney family name on something he designed.” (In the end, Gehry chose brass railings throughout the widely-acclaimed project because they had been on the attorney’s early list of forbidden things.)

3. He was mostly pre-occupied with the interior acoustic functions in designing Disney Concert Hall.

Full article via Parrot blog

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Work-on-the-Boards: Business Conditions at Architecture Firms Largely Unchanged in May

Architects see stimulus program projects generally promoting emerging design trends

billings

by Kermit Baker, PhD, Hon. AIA
AIA Chief Economist

Summary: The path toward recovery in design activity has stalled recently. After a significant moderation in the downturn in design billings in March, the AIA’s Architecture Billings Index (ABI) has failed to show any further hopeful signs in April or May. The ABI score from May was 42.9, barely moving the needle from the 42.8 score in April. Since any score below 50 reflects an overall decline in billings, the May reading indicates that business conditions at architecture firms are still deteriorating, and that there was no significant movement toward recovery during the month.

Full article via AIAarchitect Blog

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Architecture Billings Index flat in May, according to AIA

June 24, 2009
Building Design and Construction

After a slight decline in April, the Architecture Billings Index was up a tenth of a point to 42.9 in May. As a leading economic indicator of construction activity, the ABI reflects the approximate nine to twelve month lag time between architecture billings and construction spending. Any score above 50 indicates an increase in billings.   

The U.S. architecture industry has now experienced flat or lower billings for 16 straight months, dating back to January 2008. The low point was January 2009, when the ABI bottomed out at 33.3.

Of the four geographic regions tracked by AIA for the index, the Northeast fared the best, with a 48.3 index score in May, followed by the Midwest (41.5), South (41.3), and West (39.4). When broken down by sector, multifamily residential scored the highest (45.5), followed by mixed practice (44.5), commercial/industrial (43.1), institutional (38.0).

About the AIA Architecture Billings Index

The Architecture Billings Index is derived from a monthly “Work-on-the-Boards” survey and produced by the AIA Economics & Market Research Group. Based on a comparison of data compiled since the survey’s inception in 1995 with figures from the Department of Commerce on Construction Put in Place, the findings amount to a leading economic indicator that provides an approximately nine to twelve month glimpse into the future of nonresidential construction activity. The diffusion indexes contained in the full report are derived from a monthly survey 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. According to the proportion of respondents choosing each option, a score is generated, which represents an index value for each month.
 
About The American Institute of Architects
For over 150 years, members of the American Institute of Architects have worked with each other and their communities to create more valuable, healthy, secure, and sustainable buildings and cityscapes. By using sustainable design practices, materials, and techniques, AIA architects are uniquely poised to provide the leadership and guidance needed to provide solutions to address climate change. AIA architects walk the walk on sustainable design. Visit www.aia.org/walkthewalk.

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