How has the economy impacted the decisions clients make when designing houses and commercial projects?
For some, it means staying within your means and making changes to what you already have.
“There is more and more awareness about what to do with what you already have,” said Lucienne Di Biase Dooley, a partner with Artefact Inc., an architectural firm in Bethlehem.
The economy has made people more cautious about the money they spend and this includes architectural projects, said Di Biase Dooley.
She said her firm sees this sense of caution in both the high end and low end of residential projects too. More people are putting additions to their houses or adding rooms for their children who tend to graduate from college and remain at home with their parents.
Also, people are staying in their homes longer.
“They try to stay as long as possible in their house,” said Di Biase Dooley. “We see a lot of reconfigurations to make the first floor more accessible.”
Another trend involves an increase in making houses healthier through the use of materials that are green and can be recycled – materials that do not emit harmful chemicals.
“People are more aware of chemicals that are in construction materials,” she said.
On the commercial side of architecture, adaptive re-use remains strong and vibrant.
Homeowners are not only doing all they can to use what they have, but developers are increasingly looking to invest in downtown properties and transform historic or under-used buildings into growth opportunities.
“Land development is getting so expensive outside of cities,” said Di Biase Dooley.
Also, state and federal Department of Environmental Protection requirements have become increasingly stringent and new standards are always being introduced. Furthermore, approvals can take a lot of time, particularly for greenfield developments (areas where no previous facilities exist). It’s been harder to get financing from banks, Di Biase Dooley added.
On the other hand, there are more incentives for companies to invest in developing properties in downtown areas and public/private partnerships are becoming more common to get projects completed.
While DEP approvals can be onerous and hinder construction, there are some positive incentives offered by the state and federal government.
“If you are working on a building that’s more than 50 years old, you can apply for historic property tax credits,” said Di Biase Dooley.
While these tax credits have been available at the federal level for several years, they are just beginning to be offered at the state level this year as a trial year.
For office buildings, architects are going more toward an open floor plan concept, which makes it feel like “one big family” working together.
“It helps socially, but also helps with productivity,” Di Biase Dooley said. “You want to make the team a winning team so it makes you take a more active role.”
Architects are also designing office buildings with more natural light and ensure that furnishings are more comfortable for employees who spend a lot of time sitting.
“You want employees that are not only productive, but in good health.”