The U.S. Commerce Department reported 760,000 annualized housing starts in June, the most since October 2008. Housing starts have been on the climb for four quarters now, which hasn’t happened since 2005. The multifamily sector is a major reason for the jump. Bloomberg Businessweek posits the housing market has finally hit bottom and is beginning to recover. But we’re not totally out of the woods yet. The Christian Science Monitor quotes IHS Global Insights saying that 1.5 million units would need to be constructed if the economic climate were “normal,” a rate they don’t expect until 2015. And the New York Times notes: “The broader American economy has looked weaker as of late. If the recovery failed and the country tipped back into recession, housing would also suffer.” It points out that new permits for building homes declined slightly in June.
Archive for the ‘ECONOMICS’ Category
The latest economic data from the American Institute of Architects is rather alarming. Its Architecture Billings Index shows architecture firms experienced “substantial” decreases in billable hours across all regions of the United States during the month of May. The index is derived from a panel of AIA member-owned firms that report whether their billings increased, decreased, or stayed the same in the previous month.
What these figures mean for the landscape architecture profession is all very murky. Architects are the second-largest client group for landscape architects. But the demand for buildings does not always correlate with the demand for landscape design and planning.
Among the many concerns being raised about Frank Gehry’s proposal for the Eisenhower Memorial is its price tag, currently estimated at $142 million. That’s not the most costly memorial ever built in Washington, D.C., but it may be the most expensive memorial per acre. The proposed memorial would be 4 acres in size, so that’s approximately $35.5 million per acre. Here’s a quick rundown of what it cost to build some of Washington’s most famous memorials. Cost per acre is only computed for memorials that are landscapes. (more…)
Much of the depression in design and construction since 2007 can be traced to a sudden retentiveness by small and medium-sized community banks around commercial real estate and construction lending. Gretchen Morgenson has a good explanation in this past Sunday’s New York Times (subscription required) that begins to tell why many smaller banks are still holding on to money rather than lending, stimulating smaller businesses, and in turn helping to support hiring (not least in construction). Morgenson’s reading of a recent talk given by a former Federal Reserve governor, Kevin Warsh, says that the smaller banks can’t dodge the new federal reporting requirements quite as deftly as can the larger banks that are considered too big to fail (still). The federal Dodd-Frank law of 2010 that was supposed to reform Wall Street “has favored large global banks and disfavored small and medium-sized banks,” he said. “So I’m not surprised that real economic and job growth that should come from these enterprises is still lacking. Our failure to have a dynamic competitive banking system is a partial explanation for the weakness we are seeing.” Morgenson adds: “Granted, Mr. Warsh is far outnumbered by those arguing for the status quo and the continued hegemony of big banks.”
ASLA’s latest Business Quarterly survey of billings and inquiries for new work among landscape architects is out today, and holds some encouraging news. In the first quarter of the year, 71.3 percent of firms report steady or improved billable hours over those of the final quarter of 2011. More than three-quarters of responding landscape architects say that inquiries for new work are stable or better. There are signs for hope among architects, too. The March 2012 Architecture Billing Index compiled by the American Institute of Architects shows slight growth in actual billings, and somewhat stronger growth in inquiries for new work.
Surprise! The same day my editorial on the fate of Peavey Plaza in Minneapolis came out, the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission voted 8 to 1 against issuing a demolition permit. I had been expecting the permit to be issued, given the air of defeat hanging over the pro-Peavey phalanx. But the commission asked the city’s planning director to study the plaza, designed by M. Paul Friedberg in the 1970s, and determine whether it should be designated as historic; that process could take up to six months. The city’s director of the renovation project, Beth Grosen, told a local paper, City Pages, that Peavey is a “beloved space” and that her department looks forward “to having it be even more vital and sustainable in the future.”
Land Matters, from the May 2012 issue of LAM
When you work in the public realm, you’ve got to have a thick hide. If you don’t, the public will give you one.
M. Paul Friedberg, FASLA, and Tom Oslund, FASLA, have each run into this reality over the past year and a half. The two were teammates in 2010, until they weren’t, for a competition project to renovate Peavey Plaza next to Orchestra Hall, the home of the Minnesota Orchestra, in downtown Minneapolis. Friedberg designed the plaza in the early 1970s. You see his signature written in concrete all over its long amphitheater stair seats, floating terraces, groves of shade, plus, when the plumbing worked, in the cubic fountain that shed solid sheets of water and the big pool that stared up from the center of it all.
The pictures of the plaza are gorgeous. The plumbing hasn’t worked for some time. A couple of pumps that supply the 120,000 gallons of water it needs are on the fritz and can’t be fixed. The plaza is crumbling in places. It suffers from a chronic lack of love, not least from the city, which wants to replace it.
Replacement is not what Friedberg and his biggest advocate, Charles Birnbaum, FASLA, the founder of the Cultural Landscape Foundation, had in mind when they both joined Oslund’s design team, one of four that competed for the project. Things soured between Friedberg and Oslund after Oslund won the competition and Friedberg realized a new design would not keep his old one intact.
Otherwise this is pretty much a standard preservation dispute, (more…)
For more than 100 years, the federal government has restricted building heights in Washington, D.C. But those limits may soon be relaxed, according to the Washington Post. A number of leaders from both sides of the aisle, including Mayor Vincent Gray, Congressman Darrell Issa, and Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.’s nonvoting delegate to Congress, are discussing changes to how building heights are regulated.
There seems to be a common interest in preserving views toward major monuments, and height limits downtown would probably only increase a little, the leaders say. But Issa tells the Post he’s interested in exploring taller buildings in areas outside the historic core—such as Southeast D.C.
The Post talked to people on both sides of the debate but didn’t really get into the issues surrounding height restrictions that I find most intriguing: (more…)
Some places where housing went wildest during the growth years, like Prince Georges County, Maryland, and Gwinnett County, Georgia, are now having the hardest time regaining momentum after the recession, the New York Times reports. The major reason is a massive hangover of personal debt taken on as housing prices as much as doubled. “Typically where the recession hits hardest the comeback is more vibrant,” Amir Sufi, a University of Chicago finance professor, tells the Times. “We’re not seeing that this time around.”
The state of the economy is a hot topic at the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture (CELA) conference at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign this week. While things seem to be improving, there is some concern about what will happen to the many architects and landscape architects who were laid off and still can’t find work. Ted Landsmark, president of the Boston Architectural College, and Mark Hoverston, dean of the College of Art and Architecture at the University of Idaho, discussed this at the table where LAM is stationed for the gathering. ”We’re going to lose a whole generation [of designers], but it’s not the generation we thought,” Landsmark said. Both agreed that recent grads, at least those who had secured the technical skills that firms are seeking, are being hired. It is the mid-career professionals—10 years out of school—that they were most concerned about.