It's no secret that the current US economy has seen better years.  Budgets are tight, employment is down, and overall spending is not anything close to levels of that in 2007. To no surprise, the architectural profession is seeing another lull in an otherwise cyclical career.  From 1991-92 and again in 2002-03 construction levels sank, yet, neither time was as deep as the current era.

As firms have cut payrolls significantly, many architects are out of work. What does this economical diet say for design?  Are there benefits to this forced efficiency in architecture?

A few years ago, large architecture firms would generally compete with only several firms for a project, but now they are seeing something closer to 12-15.  The favor has turned to the clients who now have the luxury of having many concepts to choose from. 

These days, even the biggest firms are struggling. Clients have been pulling the plug on enormous projects due to the economy, causing many models and designs to sit idle on the shelf. 

Despite this conservatism, not all has been lost.  In design professions, there is a saying constraints can inspire creativity.

Looking back at the Great Depression, a strong competition to be the world's tallest building spawned the 1931 Empire State Building.  

Going against 40 Wall Street and the Chrysler building, the Empire State building was designed in just two weeks, and constructed in 410 days.  

Then during the recession of 1973-75, Phillip Johnson designed the Pennzoil Palace in Houston, becoming the first laureate of the Pritzker Prize in Architecture in 1979 for his work.  These achievements show that despite the economic situations, great buildings were designed and constructed.

This holds true for today. There are many new projects and designs being created.  One, for example is Thomas Heatherwick's Seed Cathedral, shown at the 2010 Shanghai design expo, where a cube with 60,000 acrylic rods resembles a giant porcupine, or just a block with a severe amount of acupuncture.  

Another would be the Vodaphone Headquarters by Barbosa Guimarães, where an accordion-like geometry seems to be growing up out of the earth. 

The change in weather has eliminated many jobs in architecture, but it has also allowed many to seek new projects and means of design. The situation has also created immense competition, which although cutthroat, also can lead to some evolutionary work.  

In addition, there has been a great push in the environmental sector, as buildings not only compete for aesthetic, but much emphasis is put on efficiency. California now has 130 LEED Platinum certified projects, twice as many as any other state, and twice as much as there were a year ago. 

Another inspirational story is that of John Morefield in Seattle.  Two years ago he set up a booth at the Ballard Farmers Market, offering architectural consultations at the rate of five cents.  

His plan was to make enough to get by until he found another job.  The work started slowly, but by the end of 2009 he had made over $50,000, and now runs a website dedicated to the cause. 

The construction industry seems to be picking up finally, and with that, the architecture will soon follow suit.  But perhaps the low points of this somewhat cyclical nature of the design world do help produce creative work.  As Morefield states, No project is too small for big ideas.

 

This article is contributed by Elliot Grochal and does not represent the views or opinions of International Business Times.