According to The American Institute of Architects' (AIA) Third Quarter 2009 "Home Design Trends Survey," the housing downturn combined with rising home energy and transportation costs is generating greater demand for smaller homes in or near urban centers with access to public transportation options. As a result, community and neighborhood design priorities are shifting toward higher-density and infill developments.

Of the residential architects who participated in the AIA's latest design trends survey, 69 percent indicated that infill development's popularity has increased in 2009, compared to 63 percent who reported the same for third quarter 2008. Forty-eight percent reported that higher-density development is gaining in popularity as well, up slightly from the previous year's 43 percent. Curiously, the proportion of architects reporting interest in both accessibility to public transportation (55 percent) and in mixed-use developments (48 percent) has decreased from the same period in 2008. The popularity of traditional neighborhood design appears to be maintaining levels, with 47 percent of residential architects indicating increasing interest both this year and last year.

As the appetite for higher-density housing types grows, design elements that promote interaction among neighbors also are gaining favor, according to AIA's chief economist, Kermit Baker, Ph.D., Hon. AIA. Fifty-three percent of surveyed architects reported that interest in front and side porches has increased, 24 percent indicate that single-story homes are becoming more popular, and 15 percent indicate that interest in simpler home exterior detailing is rising as well—a significant increase over the three percent who reported the trend in 2008.

Demand for design services continues to decline, with architecture billings scoring 46.1 in October and 42.8 in November on the AIA's index. Project backlogs are also declining, maintaining a low of 2.8 – 2.9 months since the first quarter of 2009. New project inquiries are slightly better, having maintained a steady score of 58.5 for the past two months.

According to Baker, residential architects in all regions of the country are still reporting declining revenues, however, certain regions are experiencing improvements. Firms in the Northeast and Midwest currently show the highest Architecture Billings Index scores, while scores in the South and West have made the largest gains, reflecting the beginnings of the housing market's recovery in the Sunbelt. Based on stable activity during the downturn, Baker predicts a strong home improvement and remodeling sector as housing enters its recovery period.

Baker's complete analysis of the Third Quarter 2009 "Home Design Trends Survey" was published in AIArchitect on December 4.