The Architecture Billings Index (ABI) released today by the Institute indicates a nominal increase in the demand for design services. The February ABI score was 50.4, up slightly from January’s mark of 49.9—the first negative score in 10 months. Any score above 50 indicates an increase in billings, whereas a score below 50 means a contraction.

While the ABI billings score went up, other national scores dropped. The new projects inquiry index was 56.6, down from a reading of 58.7 the previous month. Stalled at exactly 50.0, the metric that tracks design contracts is down from a score of 51.3 in January.

In a breakdown of project types, the strongest demand is currently coming from the institutional sector, a reversal of trends from late 2013 to early 2014 when the demand for institutional projects fell behind the other sectors. “The health of the institutional market has been the key factor for positive business conditions for the design and construction industry in the months ahead, and it is encouraging to see that sector remain on solid footing,” said AIA chief economist Kermit Baker, Hon. AIA in a press release. “However, we’re seeing some slowing in the other major construction sectors. Design billings for residential projects had its first negative month in over three years, and commercial design billings have seen only modest growth in recent years.”

Here are the national and sector breakdowns for the February ABI report.

National Highlights

National Billings: February’s score of 50.4 is just above January’s reading of 49.9, which was the first negative score in 10 months. 
Project inquiries: The lowest score since July 2012, February’s score of 56.6 fell from January’s 58.7. The score for this category has now declined for six consecutive months. 
Design Contracts: February’s mark of 50.0 is down 1.3 points from January, marking the lowest score in 11 months.

Regional Highlights

Northeast: The Northeast region experienced its sixth consecutive month of contractions, with February's 48.0 rising just above that of January’s 46.6. 
Midwest: February’s mark of 50.2 is a nominal decrease from January’s 50.5.  
South:  Now in its second year of consistent monthly growth, the South received the highest regional score for the second consecutive month, despite February’s score of 52.5 falling under January’s 54.1. 
West: The West is in the red again. After dropping into negative territory in January for the first time in nine months, the region fell from 49.1 in January to 46.7 in February.

Sector Highlights

Multifamily Residential: This sector experienced contractions for the first time in more than three years. The score fell from 50.4 in January to 48.9 in February.
Commercial/Industrial: This sector declined slightly, with February’s score of 51.4 falling just under January’s reading of 52.3.
Institutional: Despite this sector dropping one point from January (53.2) to February (52.2), institutional projects saw the highest demand last month.
Mixed Practice: For the fourth straight month, this sector was in the red. February’s score of 45.3 is marginally above January’s mark of 45.1.

Charts: Maggie Goldstone 
Source: AIA Architecture Billings Index