The final Architecture Billings index report for 2011 was released by the American Institute of Architects today. It shows numbers for December that are nearly identical as they were for November. The overall billings score was 52.0, same as last month. (A reading above 50.0 means growth.) The new inquiry index, a gauge of potential future work for architects, was down one point to 64.0, which is still a robust number and, for the second straight month, remains at a level higher than it has been in years. Three of the four tracked sectors were also in growth territory, with only mixed practice still flying in under the 50.0 mark. And three of the four national regions are also now all in growth territory, with only the Western region still contracting. (See the charts below.)

In the AIA's press release, AIA chief economist Kermit Baker says: “We saw nearly identical conditions in November and December of 2010 only to see momentum sputter and billings fall into negative territory as we moved through 2011, so it’s too early to be sure that we are in a full recovery mode. Nevertheless, this is very good news for the design and construction industry and it’s entirely possible conditions will slowly continue to improve as the year progresses.” 

You can see what Baker means in the chart at the bottom of this page. The billings number fell below 50.0 in February 2008 and remained in contraction until November 2010, when it breached 50.0 for five months before descending back in April 2011. We will need a few more months of positive news before we know if the architecture recovery is sustainable, or if we're in for a repeat of a year ago.

Regional averages
South: 54.2
Midwest: 53.1
Northeast: 52.6
West: 45.1

Sector index breakdown
Multifamily Residential: 54.3
Commercial/Industrial: 54.1
Institutional: 51.3
Mixed Practice: 44.5