Offering further indication that the building industry may be in for a hard, cold winter, architecture billings took a nosedive in the third-quarter following three consecutive months of what appeared to be a stabilization of design activity in the institutional, commercial, and multifamily residential sectors.

The Architecture Billing Index (ABI), a benchmarking tool compiled by the American Institute of Architects, dropped more than six points to 41.4, down from 47.6 points in August. Any score below 50 indicates a negative trend in billings, and for the first time in 2008, the institutional sector has fallen below that mark with a score of 45.6.  Breakout scores for other sectors were 45.9 for mixed practice, 42.1 for commercial/industrial, and 40.3 for multifamily residential, respectively. Single-family housing activity was not included in the study. The index, which has become an economic indicator of construction activity in the pipeline, currently shows a lag time of nine to 12 months between architecture billings and construction spending. 

A related metric tracking project inquiries held steady with a score of 51.0, but follow-through on such inquiries is another matter.

"With all of the anxiety and uncertainty in the credit market, the conditions are likely to get worse before they get better," said AIA chief economist Kermit Baker. "Many architects are reporting that clients are delaying or canceling projects as a result of problems with project financing."

Jenny Sullivan is senior editor, design, for BUILDER.