The AIA's Architecture Billings Index for July was 60.0 (any score over 50 indicates an increase in billings), the second highest mark since the survey began in 1995. Of the four regions, the Northeast was strongest, with a score of 68.5. The July Inquiries Index was 66.2.

Because of worsening national economic conditions, the Portland Cement Association has adjusted its forecast for 2007 and 2008 cement consumption. The group projects that this year, cement consumption will drop 6.8 percent, followed by a 1.8 percent decline in 2008.

Even though they're not done building it, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill's Burj Dubai is now officially the world's tallest freestanding structure. On Sept. 14, the firm announced that the building had reached the 150th floor level at 1,821 feet, passing Toronto's CN Tower, which is 1,815 feet tall and had held the distinction since it was built in 1976. The final height of the Burj Dubai, which is expected to be completed in 2008, remains a closely held secret.

The University of Arkansas School Press has just debuted Appx,a journal focusing on architectural criticism and scholarship. A follow up to Appendx: culture, theory, praxis, the new journal will continue to explore the African-American aesthetic in architecture. For more information or to submit material, contact Darell Wayne Fields at dfields@ or 479-575-6710.

The team of Flatiron Constructors Inc. and Manson Construction Co. won a $233.8 million contract to replace the collapsed I-35W bridge in Minneapolis by the end of 2008. The team, which beat out three other bidders, came in with the highest ticket price, but that was balanced by the fact that its proposal also had the highest technical score. The Minnesota Department of Transportation hopes to start construction on the new bridge by Oct. 15, and it must be completed by no later than Dec. 24, 2008. Flatiron and Manson are also partnering with Figg Bridge Engineers.

Robert Somol is the new director of the architecture school at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He began his tenure at the end of August, replacing interim director and local architect Dan Wheeler. Somol is a principal at PXS Architecture in Los Angeles, a widely published author, and a former professor of architecture at Ohio State University.

Plans to build a nearly 1,000-foot tower in downtown St. Petersburg have put the city's World Heritage Site status in jeopardy. The skyscraper, designed by architect Peter Nikandrov for gas company Gazprom, would be by far the tallest structure in town, and Unesco has announced that the city has until February 2008 to compile a report of the planned tower's impact on the surrounding areas. The city has been a heritage site since 1990, and losing that title would earn it a place on the organization's list of endangered places.

Toronto has announced a three-color system to rate the bird-friendliness of buildings in the city. Yellow is “minimum,” green is for “preferred,” and blue is for “excellent.” The voluntary program will be used by developers to market their buildings as bird friendly in the wake of new city guidelines intended to prevent the deaths of migratory birds.

The housing market may be slowing, but office construction jumped 31 percent during the 15-month period ending in June, according to Reed Construction Data. A further 18 percent gain is expected by the end of 2008. State and local governments are also picking up the pace. A USA Today analysis of new Census Bureau data reports that construction of athletic facilities, prisons, schools, and other government projects rose 11.1 percent this year from January through April.

Need cash? You may be in luck, assuming you're an NAAB-accredited architecture school looking to integrate practice and education in your curriculum. The National Council of Architectural Registration Boards annually awards grants of up to $10,000 through the NCARB Grant Program for the Integration of Practice and Education in the Academy. Submissions are due on Oct. 16. Visit for more information.