Architects, Dust Off Your T-Squares and Funny Glasses

architect glasses Architects, Dust Off Your T Squares and Funny GlassesArchitects’ prospects are no longer crumbling in the city! Only a year or two ago, they were the most unemployed profession in the country, but after a better 2010 for many New York City firms, things continue to look, uh, up. It is a good sign for the wider real estate and construction community, as well, as architects are what the wonks call “a leading indicator.”

This week, Crain’s released its annual report of the top architecture firms in the city, 60 percent of whom added jobs last year, while only four of the firms that made the top 20 list had laid employees off. 

KPF topped the list yet again, with 163 licensed architects up from 154 in 2009. Perkins Eastman, which hired 31 architects last year, for a total of 158, took the second-place spot from Gensler, which slipped to third, followed by HOK and SOM.

“New York started coming out of the recession earlier than the rest of the country, and business is improving, but it’s still uneven,” Bradford Perkins, chairman and chief executive of Perkins Eastman, told Crain’s. He, along with other architects interviewed by the business rag, said that, like developers, investors, and pretty much everyone else in the world, firms have been looking overseas, particularly to Asia, for new work. Stupid sluggish Americans.

Meanwhile, the most important building index you never read, the American Institute of Architect’s Architecture Billing Index held steady last month. It was lacking the kind of strong growth needed to dig the architectural industry out of a two-year slump worse than any design professional can recall. 

On the bright side, the index remained in positive territory, albeit barely, falling from 50.6 to 50.5 on a 100-point scale, wherein anything above 50 means billings are rising and anything below that they are falling. It is the fifth month in a row in positive territory, the longest stretch since the industry went off a cliff in early 2008.

New billings in the Northeast, which includes New York, have bounced back after a two-month run in negative territory, hitting 51.4, up from 46.4 in February and 49.1 in January. The region had been soaring, running in the low- to mid-50s from August through December of last year—which helps explain the good news in Crain’s. Still, the hiccup this winter suggests the industry, and the rest of development along with it, is still finding its new foundations.

mchaban [at] observer.com | @mc_nyo