Demand for architectural design services continued to increase in September, according to the Architecture Billings Index survey conducted each month by the American Institute of Architects. At 54.3, the September score—up from 53.8 in August—shows a continued acceleration of billings and work for architecture firms. In each of the past four months, the score has come in slightly higher each time. (Scores above 50 indicate industry growth and below 50 indicate industry contraction.)

While billings are accelerating, project inquiries cooled off ever-so-slightly. At 58.6, the inquiries score is still quite high, but it is lower than the elevated score of 63.0 recorded in August. In fact, six of the nine months of 2013 have seen this score come in higher than 60.

But the story this month isn’t merely that billings are chugging along and firms are getting more and more work. They’re also working in a more efficient manner. The recession and slow recovery have forced firms to increase their productivity significantly. We've seen some evidence of this in the Bureau of Labor Statistics' job reports. While billings have been consistently increasing over the past year, job growth has been slow and inconsistent. September saw the architectural and engineering services sector of the economy add a seasonally adjusted 800 new jobs; August initially saw no added jobs, which was revised this month to be loss of 500 jobs. And for the past year, that sector has added a seasonally adjusted 26,800 jobs. That might seem substantial, but it represents an increase of only 2 percent. As AIA economist Kermit Baker, Hon. AIA, says in the Institute’s press release: “In addition to new approaches to business challenges, a very competitive marketplace, the utilization of new technologies, and a renewed focus on efficiency have architecture firms realizing all-time highs in workplace productivity, and these new efficiencies can greatly benefit clients from a project timeline and budget standpoint.”

Doing more with less (or fewer) has become the motto du jour for every company over the past few years, and architecture firms are no exception.

National Highlights
Billings: At 54.3, up from August’s 53.8, this is the fifth straight month above 50. Eight of the nine months of 2013 have come in above 50, as have 13 of the past 14 months.
Project Inquiries: At 58.6, this score is down from 63.0 in August.

Regional Highlights
Northeast: At 50.7, down from 53.0, this is the 13th straight month above 50.
Midwest: At 51.0, down from 51.7, this is the third straight month above 50. Six of the nine months of 2013 have come in above 50 for this region.
South: At 54.1, up from 52.8, this is the 15th straight month above 50.
West: At 60.6, up from 58.2, this is the 14th straight month above 50. Looking at the past data, this also appears to be the highest score for the West region in the history of the ABI. 

Sector Highlights
Multifamily Residential: At 55.6, up from 54.6, this is the 17th straight month above 50. In fact, this sector has dipped below 50 only once in the past two years.
Commercial/Industrial: At 57.9, up from 55.5, this is the 12th straight month above 50, and the highest score for the sector since November 2007.
Institutional: At 50.4, down from 50.7, this is the 14th straight month above 50.
Mixed Practice: At 55.4, down from 57.9, this is the 13th straight month above 50.

Note: The national scores are new and independently kept each month, but the regional and sector scores are three month-averages.