From the latest press release from the American Institute of Architects:

Washington, D.C. – September 21, 2011 On the heels of a period of weakness in design activity, the Architecture Billings Index (ABI) took a sudden upturn in August.  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 August ABI score was 51.4, following a very weak score of 45.1 in July.  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 56.9, up sharply from a reading of 53.7 the previous month.

“Based on the poor economic conditions over the last several months, this turnaround in demand for design services is a surprise,” said AIA Chief Economist, Kermit Baker, PhD, Hon. AIA. “Many firms are still struggling, and continue to report that clients are having difficulty getting financing for viable projects, but it’s possible we’ve reached the bottom of the down cycle.” 

Key August ABI highlights:
Regional averages: Midwest (49.0), South (47.4), West (47.4), Northeast (46.5),
Sector index breakdown: mixed practice (50.9), institutional (48.5), commercial / industrial (46.0),  multi-family residential (44.8)
Project inquiries index: 56.9


About the AIA Architecture Billings Index: 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. The diffusion indexes contained in the full report are derived from a monthly “Work-on-the-Boards” survey that is sent to a panel of AIA member-owned firms. Participants are asked whether their billings increased, decreased, or stayed the same in the month that just ended as compared to the prior month, and the results are then compiled into the ABI.  These monthly results are also seasonally adjusted to allow for comparison to prior months. The monthly ABI index scores are centered around 50, with scores above 50 indicating an aggregate increase in billings, and scores below 50 indicating a decline. The regional and sector data are formulated using a three-month moving average. 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 on the AIA website.