The Most Important Building Index You Never Read

Unless you’re an architect, you’ve probably never heard of the Architectural Billings Index. Every month the American Institute of Architects sends out a survey to its members about how much they’re billing. 

Some economists say it can be one of the more effective ways to measure recovery, because it measures commercial construction before it even starts. The good news is that the index was up by quite a bit in July — by about two points.

That comes off a rough couple of years for the ABI and the industry as a whole. “The ballpark, as I recollect, was that somewhere between 5 per cent and 10 per cent of firms have closed down,” said Kermit Baker, chief economist at the American Institute of Architects.

Like everyone else in the industry, architects expressed only cautious optimism. “Business conditions at design firms remain quite volatile,” said Mr. Baker. “While this recent uptick is encouraging, this state of the industry is likely to persist for a while as we continue to receive a mixed bag of feedback on the condition of the design market from improving to flat to being paralyzed by uncertainty.”

Indeed, on the heels of that good cheer, comes the news that Chicago architect Lucien Lagrange, who designed the ambitious 535 West End Avenue, is going under.

Of course, it might also do to recall the doomsaying of Michael A. McCarthy, a partner in Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, in 1992. “It will never be the same again,” said Mr. McCarthy. “Beginning work in this city in 1964, I’ve had the chance to see a lot of ups and downs. This one, to me, is without a doubt the worst.”

Thus, we bring you a slightly more informal index of how some of the city’s major architects and their projects have been battered during the recession.

SLIDESHOW: Architects the Recession Claimed

The Most Important Building Index You Never Read