When the principals at Studio E Architects fell into designing a charter school a few years ago, little did they know the project type would help see them through the current downturn. “It was the darndest thing,” says Eric Naslund, FAIA, who runs the San Diego firm with John Sheehan, AIA. “We got hired by someone who didn't want an architect that had done schools before. The client wanted a fresh approach.” That particular project has been finished for two years now, and the firm has a couple more charter schools currently under construction.

Affordable and market-rate housing had traditionally served as Studio E's stock-in-trade, but developers willing to bankroll the latter are few and far between these days. “We've seen the market-rate side dry up,” Naslund says. Affordable housing has maintained a foothold so far, he adds, because the tax credits that finance it still have some value on the open market. “Right now affordable housing is still pretty steady. But if there's a financial meltdown beyond where we are now, all bets are off.”

Thanks to its involvement in schools, campus housing, and affordable housing, Studio E remains busy. But Naslund and Sheehan did temporarily reduce their staff's hours last summer, cutting their own salaries proportionally. They also froze yearly cost-of-living adjustments; asked their one employee in an Escondido, Calif., satellite office to start working from home; and cut back spending on the annual holiday party. “I don't know that I have a hard-and-fast prediction,” Naslund says. “We're hoping this doesn't go deeper. And we're hoping we'll get out of this downturn in six to nine months.”

Eric Naslund, FAIA, and John Sheehan, AIA
Studio E Architects Eric Naslund, FAIA, and John Sheehan, AIA

age of firm: 23 years
firm specialty: Affordable and market-rate housing, campus housing, charter schools, and custom homes
staff: 15 (2005); 15 (2008); 15 (2009, projected)
total revenue: Down 5 percent from 2005 (2008); down 1 percent to 5 percent from 2008 (2009, projected)
completed projects: 31 (2005); 21 (2008); 12 to 15 (2009, projected)