Real Estate - Residential

Architects Downsizing, Dabbling In Remodeling

By JP Finlay, posted Aug 20, 2010

As the economic downturn has slowed new construction, architects have suffered consequential setbacks.

Tricia Urban at Urban Design has seen the downturn firsthand. “For two years we’ve been fighting, to still have work is a big deal.” she said.

“If we can get the banks to fund things, we’d be rolling.”

According to data compiled by the Wilmington-Cape Fear Home Builders Association, in 2007 more than $486 million was spent on new construction between single and multi-family housing and commercial buildings in the Cape Fear region. In 2009, spending fell to $186 million for the same construction.

“It has been a particularly difficult and turbulent time for the architecture profession – and the entire construction industry, beginning in late 2008,” said Scott Frank, spokesman for the American Institute of Architects in Washington, D.C.

Many Wilmington area architects have adjusted the focus from new construction to remodels of existing structures. “We tended to do custom work but our remodel work is up to a third or half of our business now,” said Scott Ogden of B&O Design Studio. B&O designed local projects like the new Hibachi Bistro and Talon Court. “A lot of architects on the residential side are jumping on that bandwagon.”

“Remodeling and renovation projects – especially on the residential side - are more common than new construction activity,” Frank said.

Ogden explained that architects are in a unique situation, because potential clients are choosing to do work themselves. One example of this is in the landscape architecture sector.

“There tends to be more D.I.Y. for landscape architecture,” Ogden said. “We are competing with landscape companies that do design, but they are not under the same licensing as an architect.”

Gregory Kot at Cline Design Associates has seen other problems. Kot has put many bids in for new military construction, though the firm has not won any of the contracts. “It is frustrating because we knew we were more than capable of doing the work.”

Despite the frustrations with military work, Cline Design has seen growth on multi-family construction. “Fortunately for us, some of the returning work is in multi-family, and we have that background.”

Cline Design built the tallest building in Wilmington, PPD Headquarters, along with the new Bank of America building. Sometimes potential clients view their previous work and think the firm is not interested in smaller projects. “People think we only do large projects. We are happy to do small jobs. We enjoy doing those projects and use just as much energy for those as larger projects.”

The biggest problem that Kot saw was the lack of funding for new projects coming from banks. “There is very little work in the private sector. It is hard to get financing, and now we have a surplus of space. That space needs to be absorbed.”

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