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West sees large spike in design activity in July

Design activity in the West made a huge leap from negative to positive in July, according to the latest American Institute of Architects Architecture Billings Index released on Wednesday.

The West region reported an Architecture Billings Index score of 53.5 in July, up sharply from 48.7 in June. A year ago the West registered an ABI score of 52.7.

“Business conditions for the design and construction marketplace, and those industries associated with it, appear to be well-positioned for continued growth in the coming months,” said Kermit Baker, chief economist for the American Institute of Architects.

Any score above 50 on the Architecture Billings Index indicates an increase in workload and payment for architectural services. The index reflects the approximate nine to 12 months between architecture billings and construction spending.

The West had been in a three-month slump, with scores below 50 and design activity dropping. The last time this happened was July 2012.

Before April, the West had gone 20 consecutive months with increased demand for design activity. Only the South had more, with 21 straight months.

The West is averaging an ABI score of 50.1 through the first seven months of 2014, compared to a score of 52.3 through the same time in 2013.

The West made the biggest month-to-month jump from June to July, but still ranks last among the four regions when it comes to the rate of design activity.

The Northeast led the charge on the Architecture Billings Index with a score of 55.5 in July, followed by the South at 55.1 and the Midwest at 54.1.

The South region has now reported 25 consecutive months of increased design activity.

Collectively, the United States is seeing its greatest rate in design activity since July 2007, as the national ABI score last month was 55.8, up noticeably from a mark of 53.5 in June. A year ago it was at 53.2.

“The key to a more widespread boost in design activity continues to be the institutional sector, which is starting to exhibit signs of life after languishing for the better part of the last five-plus years,” said Baker.

Of the four sectors the Architecture Billings Index tracks, mixed-use developments was the area with the most design activity last month with a score of 61.0, a big spike from June's score of 53.8.

Multifamily residential, which had gone 10 straight months leading all sectors until July, came in second with a score of 56.5. Rounding out the top four sectors last month was institutional at 53.3, and commercial and industrial at 51.2.

The American Institute of Architects added an indicator in March to measure trends in new design contracts at architecture firms. The measure is meant to signal the direction of future architecture billings.

The score for design contracts in July was 54.9, down from June’s mark of 55.7. In March the design contracts score was 48.2.

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