Architecture, Bellwether of Future, is in Flux

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Robison Wells
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The architecture industry, which has long been looked at as a predictor of what the future holds, not just for construction but for the economy at large, is making some exciting moves as it recovers from Covid-19.

When the economy takes a dip, architects often feel it first as new projects stop coming in, and current projects get canceled or put on hold. Getting your finger on the pulse of the architecture offices often tells what the market thinks about particular industries’ futures.

So when a June survey by of 31 design, planning, and development companies, conducted by Appleseed Strategy, reported its results, industry experts were eager to take a look at what this crystal ball foretold. And what were the results? For starters, more than 70% of firms saw a hit in their wallet during the second quarter of 2020, and more than 85% expect the drop to be more significant in the third quarter.

But what about specific industries?

Offices and hospitality are taking the biggest hit. As lockdown and work-from-home have shown the business world a whole new way of getting work done, many office projects are put into question: with so many empty offices right now, are we going to need more? Or will the work-from-home atmosphere be something that will stay long after the lockdowns and quarantines are over: will we ever need as many office buildings as we’ve already got? It’s got investors nervous.

The next is hospitality, which has taken a significant hit. 75% of the survey respondents said that they expect to see no rebound in hospitality planning until at least 2021.

In good news, housing is looking up, despite the uncertain future of the eviction moratorium coming to an end. The work has primarily been in affordable housing, multi-family units. There has also been a boom at central transportation hubs, where train and bus stations meet, in what they call “transit-oriented development.” It’s a change from suburban construction, but another way that new generations are changing the face of housing infrastructure.

Higher education is both up and down. There has been a dip in forecasted construction for 2020 and 2021, but there’s more demand for what’s referred to as “resource-intensive” parts of schools, such as STEM areas, particularly medical schools. While many classes can be held virtually, there are some places, such as labs and research centers, that need to be in-person and operational.

Aside from that, everything seems to be in flux. One respondent was hesitant to call it a “post-COVID” lifestyle” and merely a “new normal; the next chapter of our lives.”

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