What’s Next – AIA September Update

The rise of the Delta variant has added a new wrinkle in long-term planning through the end of the pandemic and beyond. Nonetheless, we continue to explore the pandemic’s enduring impacts on architecture and how to look ahead over an ever-shifting landscape. In this issue, we’ll revisit the lingering subject of returning to the office, examine revenue projections for firms in the second half of 2021, and offer resources for how to design safer buildings. Have feedback or content suggestions? We want to hear from you. Please contact us at feedback@aia.org.

State of Affairs

  • 54.6: This month’s Architecture Billings Index (ABI) score indicates that firm growth has slowed slightly after a scorching summer, though this rate is more typical for a post-recession recovery—and still reflects billings are increasing for most firms.
  • 195,500: Total employment within the architecture services industry, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics—up approximately 7% year over year.
  • 48%: Percent of respondents in AIA’s Home Design Trends Survey indicating a greater interest in additional home office spaces—up from 24% last year.

Each quarter, the AIA Home Design Trends Survey highlights a different area of home trends. Q3 focused on home features to gauge clients’ interest in special rooms, technologies, and products. The survey also provides an update on business conditions for project billings, inquiries, design contracts, and project backlogs within the industry.

The Business of Practice

Despite a nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases due to the Delta variant, most businesses haven’t changed course on their return-to-office plans. According to The New York Times, a majority of organizations have already welcomed employees back to the workplace (either part time or full time), and more than 80% plan to return in some form before October. Support for the hybrid model remains: A recent article in The Atlantic argues that the ideal workweek would include three days in the office and two days at home. Next month, the ABI special question will ask architects about their return-to-office plans, providing a detailed look at how architecture firms are tackling the subject. For a sneak peek, check out this discussion board where Jennifer Kretschmer, AIA, recently asked other members of the AIA network about their firm’s return-to-office strategies. Whether you’re planning on returning to the office or not, AIAU can help your firm stay prepared for future shocks with an upcoming course on business continuity planning, featuring instructors Fiona Raymond-Cox and Victor Vela. Register now to attend—it’s only two days away.

The Future of Design

We live in a pandemic age—and it’s not just COVID-19. West Nile virus, H1N1, Ebola virus, and Zika virus all had widespread impacts over the last two decades, and the threats of antibiotic resistance and bioterrorism are increasing. Metropolis Magazine outlines the power that architects, designers, and engineers wield in transforming our built environment to protect communities against future disease outbreaks. Meanwhile, the AIAU course “Reopening America: Strategies for Safer Buildings” highlights the strategies architects employed for mitigating transmission of COVID-19 and how they can be applied to make buildings more resilient to future threats. 

Economic Outlook

A recent survey from the Associated General Contractors of America and Autodesk revealed that labor shortages continue to hamper the industry, a trend that doesn’t appear to have an end in sight. Almost 9 out of 10 contractors surveyed are still having trouble finding craft workers. AIA’s most recent Work-on-the-Boards survey asked firms about their projections for the second half of 2021. More than half (54%) expect an increase in revenue over the first half of 2021, with a projected average increase of 6%. The most pressing issues for firms looking ahead were related to the price and availability of construction materials.
For the latest business conditions at firms and in the profession, join AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker’s monthly webinar on September 23. The course is free but registration is required.

Legislative Analysis

After months of AIA advocacy, the bipartisan infrastructure deal that passed the Senate in early August included important policies to make the building sector more energy efficient and resilient. This is the first major piece of federal infrastructure legislation to include significant funding for buildings, and establishes an important precedent for the future. See this memo of the most notable provisions.
Starting in February, AIA members met with over 300 Congressional offices as part of 2021 Grassroots Hill Day to urge them to include buildings in the infrastructure package. Throughout the spring and summer, AIA members have been engaged in four all-member action alerts to weigh in directly with their Members of Congress. AIA has also been leading a new coalition of 20+ groups in the design and construction industry, the Building Resilient Action Coalition (BRAC), who have joined forces to send multiple letters to Congress this year.
This bipartisan bill still needs to pass the House of Representatives to become law, which will be no easy feat. The House voted on August 24 to establish the rules to consider the package in the weeks ahead, including a deadline to vote on the bill by September 27. However, this is a self-imposed deadline and could change.
Meanwhile, House and Senate Democrats are turning their attention to a second infrastructure bill to be passed through the Budget Reconciliation process. AIA is actively lobbying to build on the investments in the first bill and increase the investments in the building sector in the Budget Reconciliation package. This includes lobbying for funding to incentivize building code adoption, retrofit schools, and expand affordable housing. To weigh in with your Member of Congress directly, check out this action alert.

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