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The Better Way to Know if a Building Is Green

An exhibit at the American Institute of Architects headquarters shows off the LEED for Neighborhood Development rating system

The architecture firm Farr Associates, the Chicago Architecture Foundation, and the U.S. Green Building Council have produced a fantastic exhibit on how to create green neighborhoods. It opened in Chicago last year and is now on display at the American Institute of Architects headquarters in Washington.

This carries some symbolism. When it comes to sustainable communities, the architecture profession has been both hero and villain. It has been a hero because many of the early (and continuing) leaders of smart growth and sustainability in our built environment have been architects, from William McDonough to Peter Calthorpe, from Andres Duany to David Dixon. Frankly, in my opinion, architects were way ahead of the environmental community in forging solutions to sprawl. And it’s a good thing that they were, because they gave us environmentalists something positive to advocate.

Continue with article via The Atlantic

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‘Masterpieces’ on hold, waiting for better times

Hat tip to CNN Living

This article focusses on the job market as well.  Give it a read.

Aqua Building, Chicago, IL.

 

Some stunning buildings have appeared in American cities the past four years — buildings, like the Aqua skyscraper in Chicago, Illinois, that attest to the creativity of 21st-century architecture.

But there might be fewer of them in the near future, because the recession has forced many architects to tone down their ambition.

“A lot of projects have been delayed, a lot of projects have been scaled back, a lot of projects have been scrapped. … It’s not a time to see a lot of architectural masterpieces being created,” said Kermit Baker, chief economist of the American Institute of Architects.
 
Baker said the emphasis today is on value.

 “I think most buildings that are being built are very much focused on managing cost,” he said. “So you tend to see less creativity in that environment, less exciting designs, less upscale materials being used in them.”

 At Aqua, the curved terraces vary slightly from floor to floor, giving the 82-story tower a soft, billowy look — as though Chicago’s celebrated winds are ruffling its façade. It’s an award-winning structure that stands out for its innovative design by Studio Gang Architects. But its construction was well under way before the recession.

 Now “we are hearing that there’s more renovation work than construction work — kind of retrofitting existing buildings rather than building new ones,” Baker said.

It’s really difficult … for students coming out of school to find appropriate positions … we’re afraid that we’re going to lose a generation of architects.
–George Miller, president of the American Institute of Architects

It might not be the most stimulating work for innovative minds, but at least it’s work in what industry experts say has become an intensely competitive market. Where there were once two or three firms competing for a small project, now there are 20 or 30 as larger firms move in to take whatever jobs they can get.

The larger firms might “rather do a skyscraper, but if they can get a much smaller job they will, to keep the firm going and to keep people employed,” said Robert Campbell, a free-lance architecture critic for The Boston Globe. “And that drives people out of the field at the bottom who would otherwise have been getting those small jobs.”

Many firms have had to lay off employees to stay afloat. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employed architects have dropped from an average of 233,000 in the first quarter of 2008 to 217,000 in the first quarter of 2009 and 198,000 in the first quarter of 2010.

George Miller, the president of the AIA and a partner at world-renowned architecture firm Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, worries about the long-term effects this job shortage will have on the industry.

“It’s really difficult, of course in these last several years, for students coming out of school to find appropriate positions in the field,” he said. “That really concerns all of us because we’re afraid that we’re going to lose a generation of architects.

… There are going to be fewer of us around to do the work that really needs to be done in the future.”

What will be the architectural work of the future? Miller says it will likely be energy-efficient design and a renewed focus on infrastructure, especially in urban areas.

“We’re going to be considering not only the individual building solution, but also the way in which our buildings fit in neighborhoods and communities and regions,” he said. “We really have to have a plan now that considers the infrastructure of our communities. … I think if we’re smarter in terms of designing our urban centers, we’ll be more efficient in terms of the utilization of our natural and physical resources.”

Experts agree that architecture is a cyclical industry and that the market will eventually rebound. The question is when.

“It’s always been highs and lows, highs and lows,” said Campbell, who is also a registered architect. “I remember in 1975 I was working for a prominent firm in Harvard Square, and we dropped from 68 [employees] to 20. And that was the oil embargo, ’74, and that led to an extremely steep recession but a short one — not like this one that’s lasted so long.”

Some architects think recovery might be around the corner.

“We are seeing the private sector picking up,” said Thomas Fridstein, head of global architecture for AECOM, a provider of technical and management support services. “I feel like we’ve been through the worst, we’ve sort of hit the trough of the recession and things are on the upturn. We’ve had some major commercial clients contacting us about projects potentially starting up again, so that’s a very positive sign.”

It’s a positive sign for the nation, too, because busy architects are a bellwether of economic stability.

“If you don’t design it, you can’t build it,” Baker said. “So [architects] are really the first step in the process toward seeing a recovery.”

aia, architect, architects, architecture, buildings, construction, Hiring trends, jobs, new buildings, skyscraper, unemployed architects | , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on ‘Masterpieces’ on hold, waiting for better times

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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Not business as usual

NBAU_268The economy has changed radically throughout the world in the last few months. The impact has been strongly felt in the New York City design community. Projects have been put on hold or altogether stopped; new commissions are not readily forthcoming. Firms have begun, in turn, to downsize. Many of our colleagues are losing their jobs. Many young professionals are not being hired. And our bills are not being paid.

AIA New York kicked off its Not Business as Usual lunchtime initiative on December 17, 2008, in an effort to unite the architecture and design community around these issues. As the location for these lunches, the Center for Architecture serves as a space for problem-solving, discussion, and action planning, as well as for coping with the realities of an economic downturn. The initiative continues in 2009 with two Wednesday sessions every month, each with a different focus.

Full article via AIA NY

 

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