The just-released AIA firm survey, The Business of Architecture, is essential reading for the profession’s observers because it is the most complete benchmarking of trends such as firm size, economy, project delivery methods, and many other practice concerns. But after reading the latest edition, one expert opined that it could also have been titled Business as Usual, because many long-standing trends changed so subtly in the three years since the last report that it is very hard to say whether those shifts indicate real changes or the temporary bumps and dips experienced by all professions. On the other hand, in the newest report, authors Kermit Baker, Hon. AIA, James Chu, and Jennifer Riskus have begun testing two of the most remarkable shifts in the profession’s behavior: the rapid adoption of green design and building information modeling (BIM). These weren’t even mentioned in the last survey, but they’ll only be gaining ground in the future.
No matter what you call the survey, it tells us that business is good. Firm billings increased 11 percent between 2002 and 2005, to reach $28.7 billion annually. That contrasts nicely with 2002, when nonresidential billings were hardly growing, and the profession was being carried by its residential work. The survey notes, “According to U.S. Department of Labor figures, payroll employment at architecture firms increased more than 2 percent in 2004, almost 4 percent in 2005, and is on pace to increase close to 5 percent in 2006.” In terms of proportion of firm activity within this growth profile, the residential sector has increased over 5.5 percent since the 2002 survey, to 17.7 percent of firm billings, and about 60 percent of that is in multifamily. Institutional still takes about 50 percent of the total share.