Design activity increased again in March according to the latest Architecture Billings Index (ABI) from the American Institute of Architects (AIA). March’s ABI score was 51.7. This is a good sign after seeing a decrease in design activity to start the year with a score of 49.9 in January, followed by a quick rebound in February with a score of 50.4. (All scores above 50 indicates an increase in billings.) Now that winter is finally over, we should see things get back to normal and expect to see increased design activity throughout the rest of the year. The ABI is an early indicator of future construction activity since construction spending typically follows architectural billings by nine to twelve months.
Looking at the three-month regional averages, we see that the South continues to be the strongest region for architecture billings and the Northeast continues to struggle. The West region’s three-month average got up to 50.4 in March from 46.7. The South and Midwest also saw increases, while the Northeast fell from 48 to 45.8 in March.
In the sector breakdown all areas showed improvement in their three-month average, but only Institutional (53.2) and Commercial/Industrial (53.0) had scores above 50. According to the ABI, this is the first time since 2011 that Multi-family Residential has had back-to-back negative months.
Both the new projects inquiry index (58.2) and the design contracts index (52.3) were up in March over their February scores of 56.6 and 50.0, respectively.
Now that the ABI appears to be back in growth mode, the regional and sector averages should start to show improvement in all areas in the coming months.