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Bernanke Encouraged by Drop in Unemployment, Cautions Full Recovery Will Take Years

Fed Chair Ben Bernake

WASHINGTON — Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told Congress on Wednesday that the sharp drop in unemployment over the last two months is encouraging but cautioned that it will take several years for hiring to return to normal. 

In prepared testimony before the House Budget Committee, Bernanke also warned that failing to forge a plan to reduce the government’s $1 trillion-plus deficits over the long term could eventually hurt the economy. 

The unemployment rate was 9 percent in January after the fastest two-month decline in 53 years. 

Those declines “provide some grounds for optimism on the employment front,” Bernanke said.

Bernanke is making his first appearance before the House since Republicans took control last month. He is expected to face tough questions from them, despite being a member of the party. 

The Fed chief said the economy is strengthening, helped by more spending by consumers and businesses. However, the economic recovery won’t be assured until companies step up hiring on a consistent basis. 

Bernanke’s remarks suggest the Fed will stick with its plan to buy $600 billion worth of Treasury debt by the end of June. The program is aimed to invigorate spending and the economy by lowering rates on loans and by boosting prices on stocks. 

Despite rising prices for gasoline and for many industrial and agricultural commodities, Bernanke said inflation remains “quite low.” He blamed the higher prices on strong demand from fast-growing countries such as China — not the Fed’s stimulus policies. 

The committee’s chairman, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., worries that the Fed’s stimulus policies, including debt purchases, could trigger inflation or fuel speculative buying of stocks or other assets. 

“Many of us fear monetary policy is on a difficult track,” Ryan said. 

However, Ryan expressed more concerns about the nation’s exploding government deficits. If left unchecked, it will eventually hurt the economy. Ryan favors budget cuts to get the deficits under control.

Hat Tip to Associated Press

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‘Lake Wobegon’ in the sky: Apartment high-rises are above average, but nothing special


Fueled by a growing shortage of apartments and fears that condominiums will lose their value, Chicago’s apartment building boomlet is a welcome shift from the brutal recession years, if only because it will help keep struggling architects off the unemployment rolls. Yet as two new apartment towers reveal, the design consequences of this anticipated construction surge are complex and, in some ways, troubling.

The towers have much in common. Both were designed by the workhorse Chicago firm of Solomon Cordwell Buenz and were financed before the market turmoil of 2008. Both rise just west of the Wells Street elevated train tracks, a placement that makes you wonder whether their residents will ever get a good night’s sleep. And both have names that strive desperately to make them sound hip.

One (left) is called 215 West, which is shorter and snappier than its actual address, 215 W. Washington St. The other, two blocks to the north, is named 200 Squared, reflecting its location in the 200 blocks of North Wells and West Lake Streets but also suggesting (unintentionally, no doubt) that the building is crammed with ex-math majors. Fortunately, the architecture is better than the names, though nothing here is going to turn heads like the boldly undulating balconies of the Aqua hotel and residential tower.

This Lake Wobegon, all-the-buildings-are-above-average quality was predictable. These are apartment buildings, where budgets and architectural ambition tend to be considerably lower than corporate office buildings or condominium towers. If an apartment high-rise turns out not to wreak havoc on the cityscape and to give us some decent design in the bargain, then we have every reason to tolerate it. And that, with some notable exceptions, is what these buildings deliver.

Rising 50 stories and designed by SCB’s Drew Ranieri, 215 West is composed of three distinct parts, each housing a separate function. A ground floor lined with storefronts nicely addresses Washington Street. Above it rises a 600-space parking garage and, above the garage, a thin apartment slab housing 389 apartments. Most skyscrapers save their visual drama for the top. Here, it comes near the bottom.

Due to a difference in the size of their floor plates, the slab’s eastern end cantilevers over the garage by 25 feet. Indeed, the slab would seem to be in danger of falling off the garage were it not for the presence of a big steel truss (above) that reassuringly joins it to the rest of the building. The truss also gestures to the exposed structure of the “L.”‘Lake Wobegon’ in the sky: Apartment high-rises are above average, but nothing special

‘Lake Wobegon’ in the sky: Apartment high-rises are above average, but nothing special

The 42-story 200 Squared (left), designed by SCB’s Jim Curtin, is a more pleasing variation on the three-part theme.

Above its glassy, still-to-be-finished ground floor is a 547-space garage, outfitted on two sides with narrow ribbon windows and handsomely corrugated metal panels. Above the garage rises another thin slab, this one housing 329 apartments. It is noticeably glassier than its counterpart at 215 West because its columns, unlike its barely visible floor slabs, are hidden inside. The slab is divided into four wafer-thin layers, including a hard-edged plane of concrete that confronts the “L.”

Any detailed consideration of these buildings must begin with a glaring contradiction: By virtue of their downtown location, they will encourage people to walk rather than drive. But their parking garages contain far more spaces than their residents will ever need. Their extra, or “non-accessory,” spaces invariably will make it easier for people to drive, limiting or even canceling the buildings’ energy-saving benefits. Memo to City Hall: Stop green-lighting these garages on steroids.

All those extra spaces also make the garages ridiculously tall — 12 stories at 215 West, 10 stories at 200 Squared (left). Thankfully, though, the high-rises don’t give us a repeat of the brute towers plopped atop faceless parking garages that marred River North over the last decade.

Their proportions are pleasingly vertical. Their bottoms and tops subtly interlock. Their slabs, which cover only a portion of their sites, create welcome openings in the Loop’s thicket of high-rises, letting daylight filter down onto the streets below. And their ratio of glass to concrete is high enough, especially at 200 Squared, that the high-rises don’t look like concrete hulks.

Still, these buildings suffer from the blandness bug. The grid patterns of their painted concrete walls, an SCB visual trick that’s become tiresome, lack the rich sense of depth and texture that uplifts the Loop’s office buildings. Even the big move at 215 West, its large steel truss, comes off somewhat feebly, its fire-proofing and light-colored paint making it look indistinguishable from the building’s concrete.

215 West has more serious problems at ground level, notably its failure to strike up a convincing relationship with its richly textured Victorian neighbor to the east, a post-Chicago Fire office building called the Washington Block. The Washington Block, which holds down the corner of Washington and Wells, looks marooned. Its brick side walls are artlessly exposed to the passers-by. It’s as if the architects couldn’t move the building, an official city landmark, so they decided to dwarf it instead.

The worst damage comes along Wells, where an outdoor, curving parking ramp (left) that serves the tower’s garage brings a discordant touch of car-happy Sun Belt cities to the pedestrian precinct of the Loop. The ramp replaces a surface parking lot, meaning that a critical opportunity was lost to flank the Washington Block with a building of complementary scale. The architects have decorated the ramp with perforated metal, but that’s nothing more than perfuming the pig.

The interiors of both buildings are skillfully done and reflect SCB’s decades of experience in this genre. Each has a spacious, tastefully designed two-story lobby. Amenity floors provide indoor exercise areas and access to outdoor decks.

The apartments — $1,350-a-month studios to $5,000 three-bedrooms at 215 West, and $1,450-a-month studios to $2,750 two-bedrooms at 200 Squared — have floor-to-ceiling glass that takes advantage of the surrounding open space. At both buildings, glass is thicker than normal to shush the racket of the “L.”

The architects and the developers — Jupiter Realty Co. and Cornerstone Real Estate Advisers at 215 West, and Midwest Property Group Ltd. at 200 Squared — haven’t produced any masterpieces in these buildings, but they haven’t saddled us with any eyesores either. Let’s hope that they and other design teams learn from the strengths and shortcomings of these apartment buildings and reach higher in the next wave.

Via Chicago Tribune City Scapes

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Aesthetics? This Architect Likes the Dirty Work

Karen Thomas

Karen Thomas worked for more than 20 years at architecture firms in New York, including Costas Kondylis and Beyer Blinder Belle, after graduating from Pennsylvania State University in 1988. But she eventually realized she would rather manage the construction of complex buildings than draw their blueprints. In 2007 she established her own firm, Karen Thomas Associates, an owner’s representative for high-end residential projects. Ms. Thomas, 45, lives in Greenwich Village with her husband, Ralph Gillis, an architect and former employer of hers, and their 9-year-old son, Henry.

Design gene: My family is from California, but I grew up in State College, Pa., where my dad was a college professor. It wasn’t an area rich in architectural examples; my schools were nondescript. Our house was modern and mostly designed by my mother. She went to school to be a costume designer and wound up becoming one of the first women to be an Episcopal priest.

Art plus math equals My high school art teacher said I should be an architect because I loved math and art, and architecture combined them. Not exactly true. At my college there was a great emphasis on architectural philosophy and the idea that all design came out of philosophic notions.

Platonic Architecture 101? No Plato, more like Dante and Umberto Eco. But Penn State had a premier lighting design program, so I took a course in that, and also architectural engineering.

aren Thomas with another architect, Ted Klingensmith, at the work site for the educational center at the Rubin Museum of Art in Manhattan.

New York or bust: I came to New York City basically with not a penny in my pockets; I stayed on Long Island for a week with a friend’s parents while I looked for a job, and I found one at LCP, a firm that failed in the ’90s. They did commercial interiors.

Mixing it up: I worked for my future husband for five years on a nice mix of commercial and residential projects. Then I was with Costas Kondylis for two crazy years. He had a busy office and high-profile clients like Trump. An incredible opportunity, but at the time, it was like, “Here’s a 26-story building project, go do it,” and “Hey Karen, I know you’re working on two high-rises, but can you take on another?”

Sweating the details: Part of being with an architectural firm is having a lot of arguments with your respected colleagues about aesthetics. It got to where I didn’t enjoy it. Also, I didn’t like it that as an architect there were so many things you couldn’t control. You’ve got the zoning board, building codes, economics, permits and 88 community board meetings to worry about, but what I found out was I loved dealing with all that stuff, even the controversy.

Making it happen: I guess I’m totally a control freak. The work we do here, we let the architects and interior designers focus on the aesthetics and we do all the things they don’t want to; it provokes in me, frankly, more creativity than before. The architect designs the project and we make it happen. Everything has to be beautiful, but everything has to work perfectly. On a single house, there could be 20 consultants; it’s highly technical.

Personal projects: We gutted our apartment on 11th Street. I was up every night until 2 worrying over details. I’d call the aesthetic modern with a use of organic materials. Now we’re planning to tear down our little 1970s house in East Hampton Village and do something modern, low-maintenance and very, very sustainably designed. As an architect, you try to achieve perfection but never really can.




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Freelancer Bill of Rights

To support our Get Paid, Not Played campaign, freelancers at our Monthly Member Meetings produced this draft of a Freelancer Bill of Rights to empower themselves to demand fair treatment from clients. Our goal is to offer a space for freelancers to articulate the minimum work standards that they have the right to expect when taking a job or gig.

Read more about the Freelancer Bill of Rights

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AIA NY Panel Discussion: NBAU Employment Outlook for Architects

When: 12:00 PM – 2:00 PM WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 26

Where: At The Center
AIA New York Chapter
536 LaGuardia Place
NY, NY 10012
(212) 683-0023

This panel discussion will take a look at what architects might expect in terms of employment and workforce trends this year.

Speakers: David C. McFadden, Founder/CEO of Consulting for Architects, Inc. and Daniel A. Cloke, President, Parade A|E|C Staffing

The economy has changed radically throughout the world and the impact has been strongly felt in the design community in New York City. The NBAU program focuses on what design professionals need to do now for themselves and their firms.

Please RSVP as a light lunch will be served.  Check local weather report for snow forecast.

Events in this series are provided at no cost thanks to our sponsors: Chief Manufacturing, Lutron Electronics and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, LLP


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RMJM Find Themselves Battling Layoffs, Staff Exits, Principals Leaving and Will Alsop Not Landing Jobs

Remember last summer when architect Will Alsop announced that he was getting out of the architecture business to concentrate on his painting? As quickly as that was announced, shortly thereafter it came out that, no, he was getting into becoming a professor. Finally, just a month or so later, he decided that he was going to stick with architecture after all and would be joining the international firm RMJM. Unfortunately, it’s looking like it may have been a better move to stick with his original painting and retirement plans as now RMJM is in something of a tumultuous flux, with not just layoffs, but staffers exiting en masse from several offices and at least twenty principals and senior staff have left as well. Specifically worse is that the firm has admitted that, after a year of employment, none of Alsop’s big projects have been picked up yet, something they undoubtedly must not have expected and which certainly isn’t helping the situation at a company “struggling to pay its bills” according to the Independent. Will Alsop stick it through and will RMJM, one of the largest firms in the world, make it through this bump in the road relatively unscathed? That’s a cliffhanger you’ll have to wait it out for.

Via UnBeige

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Prospects for Architect Jobs, Future Employment

Optimistically speaking. demand for architects seems understandably uncertain through the year 2011. While filling positions within the architectural field will depend on geographic location of employment, and specialty in the field, among many influences.

Since architect employment is affected more so by the overall trend of commercial building construction and re-development efforts than many construction-related positions, it will no doubt be subject to the downturn of the commercial real estate market that had hit the United States (spring of 2009 onward). But, in the event of a shifting emphasis toward rehabilitating and transforming existing structures, if new construction costs continue to rise across many parts of the country, architects may look more toward employment with firms that are well established.

Overall, a large number of commercial architects may find opportunities slim, depending on their specialty. Although areas such as those involved with healthcare, security, defense and technology; positions may hold or even increase in the coming years depending on the effects and whereabouts of funding brought about by the Obama administration efforts. Architect jobs in the residential sector can probably expect to experience a downgrade given the state of new residential housing starts (early 2009) although this might turn if affected by favorable interest rates and banking procedures. Still, since the service of the residential sector is mainly comprised of the self-employed, trends of employment in this sector is debatable as many architects may transfer from private/contractor employer firms.

The entire architect job market will undergo rising competition. Demanding proven experience and track records and abilities for those well seated in the workplace and while becoming more specialized for those entering the workplace. Computer CAD has long since become a given requirement.

Competition for entry level positions on-up is likely to produce a wealth of labor and choices for employers of architects.

Hat tip to Referworks

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Architecture Billings Index Climbs by Two Points in July

Commercial/industrial sector reports growth for third consecutive month

Summary: Although billings at architecture firms declined for the 30th consecutive month in July, the ABI score increased by nearly two points from the previous month, inching closer to 50. In addition, business conditions continue to improve at firms with a commercial/industrial specialization, despite persistent weakness in the general economy. Survey panelists report that the design phase for nearly half of their projects lasts for less than six months, and that the complexity of the project is the most important influence on the length of that design phase.


The AIA’s Architecture Billings Index (ABI) score for July inched closer to the 50-point threshold again (a score higher than 50 is an indication of growth), climbing nearly two full points from June to 47.9. While there is growing optimism that billings may grow in the near future, business conditions at many architecture firms remain tenuous, with relief still a long way off.

Inquiries into new work have grown for 16 of the last 17 months, but this month’s score of 53.1 is the lowest since the beginning of the year. However, this may represent a leveling out of the glut of RFPs that firms have been receiving in recent months that have not translated into actual billable work.

Business conditions remain weak at architecture firms in all regions of the country. Firms in the Northeast continue to report the highest scores, but they have been weakening every month since very minimal growth was reported in April. The score increased in the South for the fifth month in a row in July, and is approaching 50 for the first time in more than two years.

Firms with a commercial/industrial specialization reported growth for the third month in a row in July, and while it remained minimal, it is still a positive sign. The highest score in nearly two years for that sector was reported at firms with an institutional specialization, amid reports that building projects funded under the stimulus program are beginning to wrap up.

The most recent issue of the Federal Reserve’s Beige Book reports that, for the most part, the commercial and industrial real estate market remains weak in all regions of the country. However, while vacancy rates in many areas are flat or increasing, office/retail leasing actually has been increasing in New York City. Construction activity continues to weaken in the Atlanta, Minneapolis, Dallas, and Cleveland, but public infrastructure construction is on the rise in Chicago, and most Federal Reserve Board districts anticipate slow growth in commercial/industrial real estate in the near future. And, employment data continues to paint a mixed picture. While overall nonfarm payroll employment declined by 131,000 positions in July, the private sector continued to add jobs, with an additional 71,000 positions. Construction employment remains relatively flat, shedding just 11,000 jobs in July.

This month’s special questions followed up on last month’s questions about the timing of project design phases. Survey respondents reported that the largest share of their projects (42%) have a design phase (defined as lasting from the awarding of the design contract to the completion of the construction documents) that lasts less than six months, while an additional 24% of projects have a design phase typically lasting between six and nine months. Small firms are much more likely to have shorter design phases than large firms, with 59% of projects at firms with less than $250,000 in annual billings having design phases of less than six months, compared to just 23% of projects at firms with annual billings of $5 million or more. Projects at firms with an institutional specialization also tend to have a slightly longer design phase, with nearly half (47%) of projects at those firms having a design phase lasting between six and 12 months.

Our panelists indicated that the complexity of a project is the most important influence on the length of the design phase, followed by project size (construction value), type of client, and scope of design services offered. The project delivery method (e.g., design-build, design-bid-build, integrated project delivery) was not considered to be a very important factor.

To View Additional Charts click here.

Article via AIA.org

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