On the heels of a more than two-point gain in February, the Architecture Billings Index (ABI) was up again in March. As a leading economic indicator of construction activity, the ABI reflects the approximate nine- to twelve-month lag time between architecture billings and construction spending. Washington, D.C.-based American Institute of Architects (AIA) reported the March ABI rating was 46.1, up from a reading of 44.8 the previous month. Though this score reflects a continued decline in demand for design services — any score above 50 indicates an increase in billings — it is the highest score since August 2008. The new projects inquiry index was 58.5.

"This is certainly an encouraging sign that we could be moving closer to a recovery phase, even though we continue to hear about mixed conditions across the country, " says AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker, Ph.D., Hon. AIA. "Firms are still reporting an unusual amount of variation in the level of demand for design services, from improving to poor to virtually non-existent. This increasing volatility is often a sign that overall business conditions may begin to change in the coming months."

Key March ABI highlights:

  • Regional averages: Midwest (50.5), Northeast (47.0), West (46.0), South (44.4)
  • Sector index breakdown: multi-family residential (47.3), institutional (46.8), mixed practice (45.0), commercial/industrial (44.7)
  • Project inquiries index: 58.5