The Architecture Billings Index (ABI) recorded its highest monthly score in nearly a year, according to the American Institute of Architects (AIA). The 53.1 mark in May was up sharply from 50.6 the previous month.

As an economic indicator of construction activity, the ABI reflects the approximate nine- to 12-month lead time between architecture billings and construction spending. The most recent score reflects an increase in design services, as any score above 50 indicates an increase in billings.

The new projects inquiry index was 60.1, up from a reading of 56.9 the previous month.

“Business conditions at design firms have hovered around the break-even rate for the better part of this year,” says AIA chief economist Dr. Kermit Baker. “Demand levels are solid across the board for all project types at the moment. Of particular note, the recent surge in design activity for institutional projects could be a harbinger of a new round of growth in the broader construction industry in the months ahead.”

Regional averages for the May ABI were: West (53.8), South (53.7), Northeast (51.2) and Midwest (49.9). The index by sector broke down was: multi-family residential (53.7), institutional (53.0), commercial/industrial (51.0) and mixed practice (51.0).