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VOL. 118 | NO. 134 | Tuesday, July 27, 2004

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Architecture Market Gaining Strength


The Daily News

Like other sectors of the building industry, the architecture market saw a downturn during the post-Sept. 11 economy. But the market now seems to be on the move, as area firms are reporting an increase in activity.

We see an increase in our client base and we see our existing clients doing more projects, where maybe a couple of years ago, it was more preliminary stuff, said Barry Yoakum, principal with Archimania PC. Now all the preliminaries are moving forward.

Positive future. And as the market begins to stabilize, the potential for the Memphis architecture community is strong.

Some would say the industry is already running at a high level, considering the awards and recognition local architects have received in recent years.

That recognition includes the appointment of Lee Askew, Askew Nixon Ferguson Architects founder, to the Fellows Jury for the American Institute of Architects, as well as the designation of Louis R. Pounders of Williamson Pounders Architects PC as an AIA fellow this year.

And the latest AIA Tennessee Design Awards included numerous Memphis winners.

Seeking accreditation. The industry could be poised for more growth in the community if plans to gain accreditation for the architecture program at the University of Memphis come to fruition. Currently, the University of Tennessee-Knoxville has the only fully accredited architecture program in the state.

The program currently (at the U of M) has the resources and the faculty to be an excellent program, said Heather Baugus, executive director of AIA Memphis. Its just a matter of getting the state behind it. When you look at our state, it just seems very odd that Memphis is at one far corner and Knoxville is at the other far corner. We would hope that the state would be willing to welcome two accredited programs to serve two regions.

Rusty Taylor, a principal at Evans Taylor Foster Childress Architects, said it would be great for the local architecture community if the university gained accreditation.

You can see the market having more local architects in it when that takes place, he said.

Post-9/11. In the meantime, firms are focused on the task at hand, which is moving forward with the economic recovery that is bringing the building industry back to life.

Were starting to see some growth, said Rebecca Conrad, partner with Askew Nixon Ferguson and president of AIA Memphis. It is slow and it hasnt bounced back as much as wed like. Locally there seem to be a lot of proposals being sent out. I think owners are getting a little more comfortable with the economy and are starting to look at building new buildings and making major renovations.

And although some Memphis firms have a large national presence, many work to find success through local and regional projects.

Our primary market is here, where some firms will go out of the city to continue growing, Yoakum said. There is plenty of work out there. We love supporting this area.

Shift in tastes. Taylor said it seems that a large percentage of firms have pulled back into the Memphis area in recent years. And the reason, at least partially, is due to a shift in local tastes. Breaking away from what typically is seen as a conservative market, more clients are beginning to become aware of creative design.

If we were on one of the coasts, I think we would expect that from clients, Yoakum said. But if you look at our client base, there are a lot of forward-thinking people and they want to be challenged, and maybe thats what were doing.

Outside the box. The new awareness of creativity in design could have something to do with the growing popularity of design shows found on Home & Garden Television and other TV networks. Whatever the reason, clients are beginning to think outside the box, and that has happened only recently.

Now the client base is much more sophisticated about architecture and its benefits, Yoakum said. Maybe thats because they dont see the era of Frank Lloyd Wright, which was an era of mystique. Now its an era of purchasing power. Michael Graves with Target and all the products he puts out that are really architecture-oriented people are buying them like crazy. They see architecture bring value to something they can touch every day.

That doesnt mean the majority of Memphis clients are letting loose, however.

Traditionally, Memphis is a very conservative area, and you dont see a lot of real modern, real sleek design, Conrad said. But lately our clients are gaining some sophistication and realizing that for their designs and buildings to be more successful, they need to put a little zing into them, a little twist.

Growing firms. Another trend under way in Memphis, and one that has been building over the past two or three decades, is a change in firm size.

Twenty-five years ago a large firm in Memphis would be 25 to 35 people, and at that time, there were probably no more than five or six firms that large, Taylor said. The sizes of the firms at the top firms, at least have increased exponentially.

What used to be large is now considered medium-size. Thats because the employee base at the citys larger firms, such as Looney Ricks Kiss and Hnedak Bobo Group Inc., has grown over the years.

Happy together. And no matter the size, firms are working together.

As long as everyone plays fair, were all happy, Conrad joked. We are very competitive, but we respect each other and respect each others work.


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