AIA, CSI, NIBS release new CAD Standard

The American Institute of Architects (AIA), Construction Specifications Institute (CSI), and National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) have released the newest edition of the United States National CAD Standard (NCS). NCS Version 5 is now available online.
   The NCS helps architects, constructors, and operators coordinate efforts by consistently classifying electronic design data and making information retrieval easier. It improves communication among owners and project teams, cuts or eliminates costs of developing and maintaining company-specific standards, and reduces the expense of transferring building data from design applications to facility management applications.
   NCS Version 5 is the first update to the standard in three years. Unlike previous versions, Version 5 is Web based, making it available at any time for purchase and use. The NCS website received an update as well, making it easy to log in to the new NCS online product.
   “CSI and its partners, AIA and NIBS, are pleased to introduce NCS Version 5,” said CSI Executive Director and CEO Walter Marlowe, P.E., CSI, CAE. “The refinements to the NCS, including round-the-clock online access, reflect the changing needs of the industry and how they work with design data.”
   Among a number of changes, the NCS:

  • Added new “Distributed Energy” Discipline Designators
  • Added a new Level 2 resource Discipline Designator for “Real Estate”
  • Expanded Discipline Designator for “Survey/Mapping”
  • Changed group definitions in “Civil, Electrical, Mechanical, Plumbing, Resource, Structural, Survey / Mapping and Telecommunications Layer Lists” to allow broader use
  • Expanded file extensions (up to four characters allowed now) to respond to changes in software application file extensions.

   To learn more about the United States National CAD Standard or to order NCS Version 5, visit

Architecture Billings Index Reaches Highest Score Since 2007

After falling in October, the Architecture Billings Index (ABI) rose more than three points in November to reach its highest mark since December 2007. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) reported the November ABI score was 52.0, up from a reading of 48.7 the previous month. This score reflects an increase in demand for design services (any score above 50 indicates an increase in billings). The new projects inquiry index was 61.4, down slightly from a mark of 61.7 in October.

Key November ABI highlights:
Regional averages: Northeast (51.1), Midwest (50.9), South (50.5), West (48.7)
Sector index breakdown: multi-family residential (54.3), commercial / industrial (49.8), institutional (49.3), mixed practice (45.8)

The Architecture Billings Index (ABI), produced by the AIA Economics & Market Research Group, is a leading economic indicator that provides an approximately nine to twelve month glimpse into the future of nonresidential construction spending activity. More information on the ABI and the analysis of its relationship to construction activity can be found in the white paper, “Architecture Billings as a Leading Indicator of Construction: Analysis of the Relationship Between a Billings Index and Construction Spending.”

Architecture Billings Index is Positive for First Time in More Than Two Years

Architecture Billings IndexFor the first time since January 2008, the Architecture Billings Index (ABI) indicated a growth in design activity in September, increasing for the fourth straight month. 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. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) reported the September ABI score was 50.4, up from a reading of 48.2 the previous month. This score reflects an increase in demand for design services (any score above 50 indicates an increase in billings). The new projects inquiry index was also up sharply, moving from 54.6 to 62.3 – the highest mark since July 2007.

Other September ABI highlights include:

  • Regional averages: Northeast (56.7), Midwest (51.0), South (47.0), West (44.5).
  • Sector index breakdown: commercial / industrial (56.3), institutional (47.9), multi-family residential (47.0), mixed practice (44.2).
  • Project inquiries index: 62.3.

“This is certainly encouraging news, but we will need to see consistent improvement over the next few months in order to feel comfortable about the state of the design and construction industry,” said AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker, PhD, Hon. AIA. “While there has been increasing demand for design services, it is happening at a slow rate and there continue to be other obstacles that are preventing a more accelerated recovery. Still, the strong upturn in design activity in the commercial and industrial sector certainly suggests that this upturn can possibly be sustained.”

Latest reports suggest business stability, growth?

Two industry economics reports are indicating that the commercial-construction business may be stabilizing and that growth may be on the horizon. While there are still several negative influences in place (credit, demand, economic uncertainty), the positive influences seem to be gaining ground.
   The latest Architecture Billings Index (ABI), from the American Institute of Architects, Washington, indicates a negligible increase from May to June. The index reflects the approximate 9-to-12-month lag time between architecture billings and construction spending. The June ABI rating was 46.0, up slightly from a reading of 45.8 in May. The new-projects-inquiry index increased from 55.5 to 57.7.
   “The steep decline in nonresidential property values has slowed investment in new facilities,” said AIA chief economist Kermit Baker, PhD, Hon. AIA. “Conditions at architecture firms continue to remain very soft, but we’re optimistic that they will improve before the end of the year.”
   Even more positive is the July report from Reed Construction Data, Norcross, GA. That report indicates that non-residential construction starts through June are 13% higher than the same 2009 time period and 3% more than in May 2010. According to the report, the numbers indicate that construction has been relatively steady for the past four months. The numbers also tell us that construction starts are 46% greater than the low point in June 2010, but 25% less than the pre-recession peak. Reed also expects construction starts to remain steady in the coming months and then rise at the end of the year.
   Comparing January through June 2009 numbers with the same time period this year, Reed shows construction-start improvement in government office (30.1%), laboratory (12.3%), religious (8.7%), hospital/clinic (14.7%), police/courthouse/prison (45.7%), and school/college (12%). A real standout is military facilities, which showed a 203.7% growth.—Gary L. Parr

Tool predicts building energy use

The American Institute of Architects (AIA), Washington, announced a tool that predicts a project’s energy use and project modeling. “This tool is a valuable resource for architecture firms and will be used on their entire portfolio, not just for projects seeking green building certification,” said AIA president, George H. Miller, FAIA. “The tool was specifically developed to be simple to use and to be used by firms of all sizes on a variety of building types, large and small.”
   The tool is available by participating in the AIA’s voluntary 2030 Commitment Program. The program asks architecture firms, and other entities in the built environment, to pledge to develop multi-year action plans and implement steps that will advance the AIA’s goal of producing carbon-neutral buildings by the year 2030.
   The Excel-based reporting tool requires the user to enter project use type, gross square footage (GSF), and predicted energy use intensity, in addition to answering some basic yes/no questions such as, Is project Interior only? Is the project modeled?. Based on that information, for modeled projects, the tool will automatically calculate the national average site energy usage index (EUI) for that project type and the project’s percentage reduction from the national average EUI toward meeting the firm’s 2030 goal for the current year (currently 60%). For non-modeled projects, users enter the design standard or code and the sheet will calculate the project’s contribution toward the firm’s 2030 commitment.
   The Excel tool will generate three easy-to-decipher graphs that aggregate the individually listed active projects within the spreadsheet. These three graphs will constitute the report that firms will forward to the AIA under the 2030 Commitment Program. The three charts will show a snapshot of the firm portfolio including the percentage of GSF:

  • of active projects meeting the current reduction goal
  • being modeled
  • for which the firm will gather actual energy performance.

   Firms are asked to track all active design projects for the reporting year, not just those that are seeking green-building certification. Reports developed with the tool are meant to provide a year-to-year summary of a firm’s work. Firms of all sizes and building type expertise will use the same tool and report in the same manner.
   The tool can be used for any type of building project and was developed through a collaboration between members of the AIA Committee on the Environment, AIA Large Firm Roundtable, AIA Chicago Chapter Working Group, and individuals from AIA member firms.—Gary L. Parr

Good news from the economic front

We’re finally seeing some consistent economic movement in the positive direction. The American Institute of Architects, Washington, reported that their Architecture Billings Index has improved for the third straight month. The April rating was 48.5, a 2.4-point gain from the 46.1 March index. The April number represents the highest score since January 2008. Even more encouraging is that the new projects inquiry index is now firmly on the growth side at 59.6.
   “It appears that the design and construction industry may be nearing an actual recovery phase,” said AIA chief economist Kermit Baker, PhD, Hon. AIA. “The economic landscape is improving, although not across the board, but doing so at a gradual pace. It is quite possible that we will finally see positive business conditions in the foreseeable future.”
   The regional indices show growth in the Northeast (51.0), almost break-even in the Midwest (49.2), the South (46.5) below the national index, and the West (44.7) still struggling. The sector index breakdown shows: commercial/industrial (48.5), mixed practice (48.4), institutional (46.8), and multi-family residential (45.8).
   This is truly good news, made more so because a pattern of improvement is clearly in place. It’s not going to be a rapid recovery, but positive movement is a welcome relief.—Gary L. Parr


The Alhambra is on UNESCO's World Heritage List.

The Alhambra is on UNESCO's World Heritage List.

Put down the shopping list. Stop trimming the tree. Forget about what you want tell the boss at the holiday party. You have to start working on your “Why I Want To Go To Spain” essay. Seriously. Tile of Spain is taking three architects and/or designers on a  free trip to Spain.
   The “Reign in Spain” tour starts in Madrid and moves on to Granada, home to the world-famous Alhambra Palace. Then you will travel to Valencia (birthplace of paella) for Cevisama 2010, the big ceramic tile trade show.
   Here’s the deal: You must be an accredited architect or interior designer with current affiliation with AIA, ASID and/or IIDA and living in the United States. You must be available to travel from Feb. 5-13, 2010. Finally, you are expected to participate in all activities of the junket. Tile of Spain says, “there will be free time for exploring the cities on your own but most activities, meals and excursions are planned beforehand and are required.”
   What’s next? Download and complete the application form at then  return the application by deadline of Dec. 23, 2009. Good luck. —Jim Carper

AIA cranks at Congress

I have cranked on previous occasions about how frustrated I am that the river of government handout money for road repair seems to be a raging, never-ending torrent (Cranking here is one thing. You should hear me when I’m circumnavigating construction sites trying to get to work!!), while commercial construction firms can’t seem to get enough credit to be able to move a shovel full of dirt. The holdup doesn’t seem to be so much a desire to receive a D.C. handout as it does a need to have credit availability return to some level of sanity.
   Today, the American Institute of Architects, Washington, cranked a little at Congress.
   Here’s what the press release tells us was said: Tampa-based architect, Mickey Jacob, FAIA, unveiled the American Institute of Architects’ (AIA) Rebuild Renew plan for both short- and long-term economic recovery to the House Committee on Small Business at a hearing today. “Small business does not want a bailout. We want access to loans to bridge the economic downturn to help fund operational costs. We want relief from the premium costs of health insurance. We want incentives for people to build, buy, and renovate their homes and businesses. We want the availability of grants that assist in the acquisition and implementation of new technologies to keep small business competitive in the worldwide marketplace. These are investments in the future of the country,” Jacob testified (Download Mickey’s entire statement here.)
   The AIA Rebuild Renew Plan recommends these steps:

  • Make financing available for design and construction projects.
  • Provide tax relief for small businesses.
  • Make tax policies work for recovery.
  • Rebuild our infrastructure for the 21st century.
  • Build the new green economy.

   Download the AIA Rebuild Renew Plan here .
   I applaud the AIA for being proactive, not just today, but throughout this recession. I just hope that Congress starts to listen.—Gary L. Parr

AIA misses chance to tell positive construction forecast story

The American Institute of Architects, Washington, missed an opportunity Monday to shine a bright light on the non-residential construction market. A press release from that august organization, describing its semi-annual Consensus Construction Forecast,was titled “Significant Downturn in Nonresidential Construction Activity Projected through 2010.” I read that headline and my first thought was “how can 2010 possibly be worse than 2009?”
   Then I read in the first line of the release, “nonresidential construction spending is expected to decrease by 16 percent in 2009 and drop by another almost 12 percent in 2010 in inflation adjusted terms.”  That made me scratch my head a bit because that seemed like progress to me. So I jumped to the numbers. They also said progress:

  • Retail: -28% in 2009, -12.6% in 2010
  • Hotels: -25.8% in 2009, -16.8% in 2010
  • Office buildings: -21.5% in 2009, -17.3% in 2010
  • Education: -8.2% in 2009, -0.7% in 2010
  • Healthcare: -1.5% in 2009, -0.8% in 2010

   Maybe it’s just my optimistic view, but these numbers are telling me that the falloff in construction activity is slowing significantly and healthcare (0.8%) and education (0.7%) are basically projected to break even. Many people would consider that to be a victory. I was surprised and very encouraged to see that the drop in retail construction will be less than half of the 2009 number. I didn’t think we’d see retail progress of any kind for a couple of years.
   I doubt there is anyone who expects commercial construction to go from a significant slowdown to growth just because the calendar date changes. It’s going to take time for things to get back on the positive side, but this forecast tells me things are heading in the right direction. I also doubt that this forecast does a very good job of representing the extensive amount of remodeling/retrofitting work that is going on to make existing buildings more energy efficient/greener.
   In my mind, this forecast is good news, not another black cloud of disaster, and the AIA blew its first chance in a long time to make a positive statement.—Gary L. Parr

Another hint of recovery?

The Architecture Billings Index, a monthly market-status indicator produced by the American Institute of Architects, Washington, has now given us consecutive months of positive news. The index increased eight points in March, the first increase since August 2008. The April index fell less than a point and, for the first time since August and September 2008, the index has consecutive months higher than 40. Any score of 50 or more indicates an increase in billings. While this still has the market in a declining state, the good news is that the new projects inquiry score for April was 56.8. “The most encouraging part of this news is that this is the second month with very strong inquiries for new projects. A growing number of architecture firms report potential projects arising from federal stimulus funds,” said AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker, PhD, Hon. AIA. “Still, too many architects are continuing to report difficult conditions to feel confident that the economic landscape for the construction industry will improve very quickly. What these figures mean is that we could be seeing things turn around over a period of several months.”
   While we are all cautious, the construction news these days has a much more positive flavor to it than it did a couple of months ago.—Gary L. Parr

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