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Economic Downturns and the Architectural Profession

Working paper #663
Witold Rybczynski

In November 2008, the Architectural Billings Index, which measures firms’ commercial building activity, dropped a massive 30 percent compared to a year earlier, registering the lowest score in its thirteen-year history. The construction industry is famously cyclical, and architectural firms regularly deal with slow-downs by down-sizing, reducing operating costs, tightening their belts, and holding their collective breaths until the inevitable recovery. Longer downturns have a major impact on the nature of architectural practice, and this article presents historical examples from the Great Depression: the disruption of architectural apprenticeship; a change in the types of buildings commissioned; and a change in architectural style when building starts up again.

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