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Design services demand in West rises in '13

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Demand for design services in the West ended 2013 the way it started — practically at the same rate, according to the monthly American Institute of Architects Architecture Billings Index released Wednesday.

In December, the West reported a score of 53.2, up from 50.2 in November and just about the same in January, which posted a mark of 53.4.

The Billings Index reflects the approximate nine to 12 months between architecture billings and construction spending. A score of more than 50 indicates an increase in workload and payment for services.

The West averaged a score of 53.3 on the billings index in 2013, and held a mark above 50 through the entire year for the first time since 2006.

Richard Nowicki, partner at Baker Nowicki Design Studio and former American Institute of Architects San Diego chapter president, said 2013 was a very good year for those firms that designed educational facilities, as his did.

“The market steadily improved throughout the year,” Nowicki said. “Kindergarten through 12th-grade work was there all last year, as it has been the last few years with the various bond measures passed locally and in California the last few years.”

Nowicki also said his firm had a continual push forward throughout 2013, in terms of money flow coming in for work completed and projects being designed, with no peaks or valleys.

Compared to the other three regions of the country, demand for design services was increasing at a faster pace in the West in December.

The South, with a score of 51.2, was the only other area where workload and payment for services was increasing. The Midwest came in with a score of 47.0, and the Northeast reported a mark of 42.8.

For 2013, the South averaged an ABI score of 52.8, the Midwest reported a 51.1 mark and the Northeast came in at 51.5.

The national average on the billings index in December was 48.5, down from a score of 49.8 in November.

This marks the first time since May and June of 2012 that the billings index posted consecutive months of contraction.

“What we thought last month was an isolated dip now bears closer examination to see what is causing the slowdown in demand for architectural services,” said Kermit Baker, chief economist for the American Institute of Architects.

“It is possible that some of this can be attributed to the anxiety in the marketplace caused by the shutdown of the federal government, but it will be important to see how business conditions fare through the first quarter of the new year when we no longer have end-of-the-year issues to deal with.”

Of the four arenas the Billings Index tracks, the multifamily residential sector had the most demand for design services in December, with a score of 53.8.This is the third month in a row and seventh overall in 2013 that multifamily had the highest mark.

Mixed-use projects came in second at 51.0, followed by the commercial and industrial sector at 47.1 and institutional with a score of 44.8.

In addition, all four sectors averaged scores above 50 in 2013, with multifamily (54.8) beating mixed-use (53.9).

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