Attendance was high at a Thursday afternoon session about construction activity, a topic of concern to all architects. And all attendees were no doubt wondering whether the industry had started to recover in earnest yet.
The short answer: maybe, according to Robert A. Murray, vice president for economic affairs at McGraw-Hill Construction. In the session, titled "The Construction Outlook: Implications for Architecture Firms" and co-presented with the AIA's chief economist, Kermit Baker, Hon. AIA, Murray summed up research findings by his company for an up-to-date look at the 2011 construction picture.
That picture is distinctly mixed. After noting "a little bit of easing" in lending standards (though not a return to the lax days of 2004 or 2005, he quickly pointed out), and a reported increase in demand for commercial real-estate loans, Murray said that "the financial picture is showing improvement" for commercial real estate and construction. Some projects put on hold are starting up again, he said, although the federal budget debate creates uncertainty around military and GSA projects, and the weakened fiscal position of many state and local governments is another potential dampener.
Discussing specific project types, Murray projected that single-family residential won't see strong growth this year, and that in retail, "maybe things are starting to percolate a bit." However, multifamily residential is "a bright spot" with strong upward momentum.