The Architectural Billings Index (ABI) rose to 43.7 in March, up from 35.3 in February. It’s the first time the score has landed above 40 since last September.

The inquiries score, which in February was 49.5, climbed to 56.6.

Graph courtesy AIA

The index, one of the profession’s leading economic indicators, reflects a nine- to 12-month lag time between architectural billings and construction spending. The American Institute of Architects produces the index based on surveys sent to architecture firms. A score above 50 indicates an increase in billings, and below 50, a decrease. In January, the billings score dipped to 33.3—a record low in the ABI’s 13-year history.

The March uptick “should be viewed with cautious optimism,” says Kermit Baker, the AIA’s chief economist. “It will likely be a few months before we see an improvement in overall billings,” he says. “Architects continue to report a diversity of business conditions, but the majority are still seeing weak activity levels.” 

In terms of sectors, commercial/industrial scored 35.0, down slightly from February’s 35.5. The March institutional score rose to 42.9, up from 40.3, while multi-family residential increased to 39.4, from 35.7.

The index also breaks down activity by region. The West had the lowest score (36.1) while the South had the highest (43.4). The score for the Midwest was 37.5, and for the  Northeast, 41.8.

Read more economic news in our Recession and Recovery section.