Business of Architecture

Update for May 15th: Archinect’s Guide to 2020’s Economy & Business | Features


Privacy Panels, designed by Studio Other (formerly Tangram Studio), to help ease the transition to office work

With America’s re-opening continuing apace, design energy has turned toward figuring out which and how everyday spaces like offices, schools, and restaurants are set to change. Taking a typological approach, designers and researchers are investigating how the existing built environment might be retrofit for post-pandemic use and what those changes might entail from a design perspective. Additionally, as economic losses continue to mount as the pandemic continues to kill thousands by the week, attention has begun to turn to how any potential economic recovery can be designed to benefit the greatest number of people. 

This is weekly article update helps collect some of the top economic- and business-related aspects of the COVID-19 situation each week as reported by Archinect in an effort to help design professionals connect the dots between various macro-and micro-economic trends currently impacting the field. Be sure to click “follow” at the top of this article to track updates here! To get notified about all new related articles, be sure to follow the “COVID-19″ tag for news feature articles on this topic. For our comprehensive, regularly updated, guide on how the current viral pandemic is impacting architecture, check out our Archinect’s COVID-19 Guide for Architects & Designers.

Previous Updates:

May 1, 2020: As states around the country begin to plan for easing widespread quarantine measures, authorities in New York City have begun re-opening the city’s construction sites. Widespread, but not total, work stoppages there were recently lifted and now over 5,200 construction projects are underway once again, with enhanced social distancing measures being observed. In addition, as people return to their places of work and other seemingly abandoned buildings come back online, special precautions will need to be taken to prevent outbreaks of new ailments, including Legionnaires disease. 

April 24, 2020: The American Institute of Architecture published its latest Architecture Billings Index survey this week showing that the demand for design services fell remarkably in March. In addition, the federal government passed the fourth emergency economic aid package tied to the COVID-19 crisis, bringing an additional $320 billion in funding to the beleaguered Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and $10 billion to the emergency Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program (EIDL). Archinect released survey results from our own PPP-related survey, which showed that a large majority of the firms that have attempted to access emergency aid have been unsuccessful so far.

April 17, 2020: As Americans enter the second month of the COVID-19 crisis, the troubling economic picture resulting from the societal shut-down put in place to limit the spread of the disease has begun to come into fuller relief. This week, as American small businesses hustled to submit their applications for emergency loans from the federal government to help keep their businesses afloat, it was announced that the funds available for these purposes had already run out. In addition, new economic reporting on the state of the American housing construction industry, coupled with a survey released by the American Institute of Architects gauging the sentiment of residential architecture firms, portrays a grim near-term future for this section of the economy. 

April 9, 2020: Last week, the lending institutions began accepting applications for financial help related to the recently passed $2 trillion CARES COVID-19 economic rescue package. This week, architects around the country are working to access those funds while also attempting to find other ways to stem the losses from the economic downturn that has taken shape as the scale COVID-19 crisis has grown. At the local level, states like Florida and California have continued with strategic investments aimed at maintaining some economic momentum while talk of an additional economic package has taken shape in Washington, D.C. 

April 3rd, 2020: The passage of a $2 trillion economic rescue package last week marked a major shift in the federal government’s response to the crisis, which continues more or less unabated. This week, as businesses readied to apply for their share of the $377 billion in loans allocated in the package to help small businesses weather the crisis, municipalities around the country worked to fine-tune work stoppage orders for construction sites as construction teams and architects argue that building plays an “essential” role in society.

A special note to the reader:

At Archinect we value the knowledge and experience of our community. We encourage you to contribute to this discussion in the comments. What questions do you have that you haven’t gotten answers to? Please post those in the comments, we may be able to use our resources to find an answer. Also, share any important links or insights that you think we could all learn and benefit from. We’re in this together!

Previously on Archinect: “Hygiene ventilation” and the case for Green Stimulus.” Will post-COVID-19 building ventilation strategies create new problems for the built environment? Image courtesy of Image by Erich Westendarp from Pixabay.

How the COVID-19 crisis is impacting the economy and the business of architecture firms

As the economic shut down put in place to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus began to take shape, economists were quick to declare the start of a new recessionary period. Though projections for the year had shown a positive trajectory in terms of economic growth through increased design inquiries and contract executions via the AIA Architecture Billings Index, coronavirus response measures, including social distancing initiatives and “shelter in place” directives, have imperiled construction sites across the country, essentially halting a significant portion of architectural work. As the crisis has intensified, however, work has resumed on some construction sites, though not everywhere, and while many firms have seen a drop in interest for new work, others, especially in the healthcare retrofit arena, have seen demand for their services go up. As America looks toward potentially reopening the country’s economy throughout the month of May, a slew of built environment challenges lie ahead, including retrofitting existing buildings for new use with social distancing, reoccupying buildings that have sat vacant for months, and other yet-to-be-uncovered challenges. 

We have collected Archinect’s recent economic reporting below to highlight the financial and business impacts the COVID-19 crisis have wrought on architectural work.

Previously on Archinect: “AIA publishes guide for re-occupying shuttered buildings post-quarantine.” AIA has published a tool to help building owners and designers retrofit existing buildings for post-quarantine use. Image courtesy of Wikimedia user Larsinio.

The state of construction activity in the era of “social distancing”

While Boston was among the first major cities to stop nearly all construction activity, other municipalities took a more tactical approach. San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle, for example, have allowed “essential” projects to continue, including building projects aimed at increasing hospital capacity and those involving affordable housing. In late March, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a similar directive shutting down most of the state’s construction projects outside of critical infrastructure and hospital needs, while California has allowed most construction to continue, with additional precautions. 

The short-term impacts of work stoppages are have resulted in a significant number of project delays and other issues, though the longer-term effects are still being assessed. In many cities, the rapid-response plans put into play to help shore up hospital capacity and other efforts have involved temporary construction and retrofit services, projects that have yet to significantly include architects and designers. In response to the growing disparity, the American Institute of Architects formed an advisory group to help provide professional design expertise on matters relating to the retrofitting of existing buildings for improvised hospital and recovery use. This group, and others, have begun articulating new approaches for how existing facilities can cope with the new and changing demands that are being placed upon them. 

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