Opportunities for architects will be centered around existing building projects in 2021 as there has been a shift toward existing building work that had already been underway, according to a recent report jointly released by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope® (OBE). The report, named  “Business Opportunities & Sustainability Trends Amidst a Pandemic, studied the impact of the pandemic on design firm business conditions.

According to the report, “the impact on commercial and institutional nonresidential projects was especially negative while demand for architectural services on single-family home projects increased.” The report also found that while clients engaged less on sustainability issues during the pandemic, architects working on sustainable projects were not negatively impacted by the pandemic.”

The study shows that the construction market was strong leading up to the pandemic, with construction spending on nonresidential buildings reaching over $550 billion in 2019. Once the pandemic hit in the spring of 2020, “new construction projects slowed precipitously and the demand for design services in most sectors decreased significantly. The AIA’s Architecture Billings Index (ABI) plummeted in March, reporting some of the steepest declines in billings at architecture firms in its 25-year history.”

The pandemic caused work to shift toward residential and existing building projects, especially from March to September 2020. “With growing concerns over building design from the pandemic, awareness of public health risks, and the continued need to work from home, we expect short-term opportunities for architects to be centered mainly around residential construction and existing building projects,” according to the study. Additionally, healthcare, higher education and K-12 education are expected to have the greatest opportunities for growth in existing buildings this year regarding sector activity.

Health is a driving factor when concerning sustainable design. “For those firms doing work in the residential sector, they do see sustainability innovation occurring, which suggests we may continue to see expansion of sustainable, resilient, and high-performance buildings.”

The entire study, Business Opportunities & Sustainability Trends Amidst a Pandemic, is available on AIA’s website.