In the three years leading up to the current recession, gross billings at U.S. architecture firms increased nearly $16 billion from 2005 and totaled $44.3 billion in 2008. That equates to 54 percent growth over three years with annual growth of about 16 percent.

These findings come from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) “Business of Architecture: AIA Survey Report on Firm Characteristics,” which is conducted every three years to examine issues related to the business practices of AIA member-owned architecture firms.

Top 10 sectors served by architects in 2008

  • Healthcare: 18.2%
  • Office space: 11.3%
  • Education (K-12): 9.0%
  • Education (college/university): 9.0%
  • Retail, food services: 8.4%
  • Government / civic: 5.9%
  • Hospitality: 4.8%
  • Industrial: 3.6%
  • Transportation: 2.9%
  • Recreational: 2.3%

The study also revealed sizeable gains in the number of firms doing green design projects, as well as using Building Information Modeling (BIM) software.

“While architecture firms are struggling considerably as the current economic slump continues unabated, there were extensive increases in revenue for the profession during the period this survey covered," says AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker. "Of particular note, the survey also revealed that the number of firms practicing green design has nearly doubled since 2005. The use of BIM software has also doubled in the last three years.”

An overview of the survey is available online. Below are some highlights.

Green Gains Momentum

Fifty percent of architecture firms report having green design practices, up from 31 percent in 2005. Firms with 10 to 49 employees had the biggest gains in green design work, which increased from 48 percent to 72 percent in the last three years.

Diversity on the Rise

There was a sharp rise in the number of minority licensed architects, from 11 percent to 18 percent, with a 3 percent increase in the number of minority partners/principles. Minorities now make up 19 percent of all architecture staff.

The gains have been smaller for women over the same period, with only a 1 percent increase in the number of principals/partners and for all architectural staff. The number of female licensed architects remains at 20 percent, but there were increases in the number of female non-licensed architects and interns, 3 and 5 percent respectively.

Other Highlights 

  • Share of firms that have obtained BIM software has increased from 34 percent in 2005 to 69 percent in 2008.
  • Nearly two-thirds of construction projects begun in 2008 had sustainable design features.
  • New construction accounts for nearly two-thirds of design projects.
  • Traditional design-bid-build delivery method most widely used by architecture firms.
  • International projects accounted for 7 percent of billings and totaled slightly more than $3 billion in revenue in 2008.