Architects Back in Demand: Is a Housing Recovery Near?

Something unusual is happening at architects' offices: The phones are ringing.

After a long recession-induced downturn that caused massive layoffs and agony for architects and designers of all stripes, potential clients are starting to ask about new or iced projects, they say. This could boost the real estate market and construction activity -- if those tentative inquiries lead to commissions, that is.

Any glimmers of hope are helpful, like those found in the American Institute of Architects' Billing Index, which tracks activity in the industry. The index has trended upward over the past four months, suggesting that the situation is at least not as awful as it was. While the index remains stuck below 50, which means it's in negative territory, the AIA's chief economist, Kermit Baker, wrote in a press release that the industry could be "nearing an actual recovery phase."