The number of working architects dropped from 214,000 in 2007 to 153,000 in 2011. The sustained increase in billings is expected to help reverse this unemployment trend, as firms begin hiring designers to meet increased demand. "Rising billings also are viewed as a gauge of future construction activity because real-estate developers tend to break ground on new projects 9 to 12 months after they hire design firms," adds Robbie Whelan. "Construction generates large numbers of jobs for engineers, contractors and tradesmen." This could indicate not only an improving real estate and housing market, but also a broader economic recovery.
Architects are finding work with public-sector and non-profit organizations, including medical centers, colleges, and other institutions. "I think higher education has probably been the most-active market in the last year or two," said Alan Bombick, a principal with Legat. His firm is building a hotel for a mixed-use development coordinated by the University of Chicago. Neil Denari, a Los Angeles architect, said, "We're going to be putting more energy into pursuing educational projects, because that's where a lot of the work is."